Staff at a COVID-19 coronavirus clinic conduct a test on a man inside his car outside a COVID-19 coronavirus clinic in Lower Hutt, near Wellington, on April 20, 2020. (AFP / Marty Melville)

Social media posts mislead on New Zealand's Covid-19 vaccination drive

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Multiple Facebook posts shared thousands of times in Thailand in February 2021 claim New Zealand has “returned to normal” as “the majority of people have been vaccinated [for Covid-19]”. The posts shared screenshots of a video featuring New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern alongside a claim it shows her "encouraging people to do outdoor activities to prove that New Zealand has finally returned to normal". The claim is misleading: as of February 18, 2021, New Zealand was set to begin offering Covid-19 vaccinations to the general population from February 20, 2021. The screenshots in the posts were actually taken from a video that shows Ardern taking part in a barbecue to celebrate New Zealand’s national day.

The screenshots were posted here on February 13, 2021 in a Facebook post since shared more than 1,900 times.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, taken on February 17, 2021

The post features three screenshots of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

The Thai-language text above the screenshots translates in English as: “The Prime Minister of New Zealand encouraged people to do outdoor activities to prove that New Zealand has finally returned to normal as the majority of people have been vaccinated. During today's activity, no one had to wear a mask to cause them breathing problems." 

The post’s Thai-language caption reads in English: “So cool”.

New Zealand has been widely praised for its handling of the pandemic, with just 25 deaths in a population of five million as reported by AFP.

The Pacific island nation was ranked top among 98 countries for its pandemic response, with border closures, “go early, go hard” lockdowns and testing regimes largely keeping the virus at bay.

The screenshots have been shared here, here and here alongside a similar claim.

However, the claim is misleading. 

Covid-19 vaccination drive

As of February 18, 2021, New Zealand has not started its Covid-19 vaccination drive. The government announced on February 15, 2021 it had received its first batch of coronavirus vaccines. 

Doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab would be given out to border and quarantine workers from February 20, after quality control checks, the health ministry said.

New Zealand’s biggest city Auckland began a snap three-day lockdown on February 15 after three family members were found to be infected with that variant of the virus that emerged in Britain.

The New Zealand government still advises people to wear masks or face coverings in addition to basic hygiene measures, in order to protect people against Covid-19. Here is a link to the government’s latest advice as of February 18.

Video screenshots

The screenshots in the misleading post were taken from a video that in fact shows Ardern participating in an annual barbecue event on New Zealand’s Waitangi Day. 

Google reverse image and keyword searches found this video which was livestreamed on Ardern’s official Facebook page on February 6, 2021.

The video’s caption reads: “Good morning from Waitangi and our annual breakfast!”

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is where New Zealand's founding document was signed by indigenous Maori and representatives of the British crown in 1840.

Below is a screenshot comparison of images in the misleading post (L) and in Ardern’s livestream (R):

Screenshot comparison of images in the misleading post (L) and in Adhern’s live stream (R)

Further keyword search found this report published by 1 News, run by New Zealand's state-owned broadcaster TVNZ on February 6, 2021. 

The article’s headline reads: “Jacinda Ardern serves up Kiwi BBQ breakfast at Waitangi Day commemorations”.

About 2,500 people turned up for the barbecue breakfast, although coronavirus fears prompted groups such as the Maori Party to stay away, TVNZ reported.