The US isn’t headed for fewer deaths in 2020 with COVID-19

The Statement An Instagram post suggests the United States is on track for a lower death rate in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The October 7 post features a screenshot of a tweet from a user named Sarah Hucklebee which says: “Total annual deaths in US? 2018: 2,839,205 2019: 2,855,000 2020: 2,033,736 through Sep 24th.” It goes on to state: “2020’s overall death rate is on pace to be LESS than 2018 and 2019. I’m sure that’s the message we are all getting from the media.” The caption on the Instagram post adds: “It must be getting harder for the branch covidians to cling on to the biggest fraud in human history. The thing is, the stats don’t lie. Just the media does.” At the time of publication, the post had been viewed around 13,200 times, attracting more than 450 likes.  A post claims the US is on track for fewer deaths in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Analysis While some of the figures included in the tweet are accurate, the tally of 2020 deaths in the United States is well below the true count, according to data provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The post also fails to take into consideration seasonal factors when wrongly concluding that the US was likely to record fewer deaths in 2020 than previous years. The figures in the tweet all appear to have been drawn from CDC data. In its report, Mortality in the United States, 2018, released in January 2020, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) said 2,839,205 resident deaths had been registered in the US that year. Provisional counts for 2019 show there had been 2,855,000 deaths recorded in the 12 months ending in December. The CDC told AAP FactCheck via email that final 2019 death data will not be available until later in 2020. The tweet, posted to Twitter on September 25, adds that there were 2,033,736 deaths in the United States in 2020 “through Sep 24th”. This tally, however, is significantly below the closest equivalent figure provided by the CDC, which told AAP FactCheck its provisional records showed 2,309,502 deaths in the US in 2020 up to and including September 19. The tweet’s claim that the US is on track for fewer deaths in 2020 than previous years appears to be based on comparing the daily death rates for each year. For the year up to and including September 24, the 2020 daily death rate stood at 7,589, based on the figure provided in the tweet. If the US were to record the same death rate throughout 2020, a leap year, as it had purportedly recorded to September 24, there would be 2,777,416 deaths – lower than the 2018 and 2019 tallies. However the annual tally based on the CDC’s updated figure of 2,309,502 to September 19, which is in line with its weekly provision death counts, would provide a daily death rate of 8,771 and an annual toll of 3,213,984 for 2020 – significantly higher than for either 2018 or 2019. The apparent calculation to produce the tweet’s claim also fails to take into account the highly seasonal nature of the death data. In 2017, according to the CDC, the average daily number of deaths in December was 16.6 per cent higher than in July. The figures bottom out in summer and steadily rise from September until the end of the year. Based on this trend, the daily death rate would be expected to accelerate through the remainder of 2020. The NCHS has its own provisional tally of deaths from all causes – and how these compared to “expected deaths” using figures from an average of the equivalent periods in 2017 to 2019. The tally showed there were 11 per cent more deaths than expected in the US by the week ending October 10. The CDC notes that the deaths reported in the tally are only those recorded by the date of analysis, not all those that would have occurred. Due to this, it is likely to underestimate the total number of deaths and the rate of unexpected deaths. The CDC said research on the “excess deaths” could provide more information about the mortality burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. This research estimated that the weekly rate of excess deaths in the US peaked at as high as 40 per cent of the normal tally in April 2020 (see graph). Research from academics at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and the Yale School of Public Health found there were around 20 per cent more deaths in the US between the start of March and August than would normally be expected. The research noted that deaths attributed to COVID-19 only accounted for only two-thirds of the excess figure. The study’s lead author, Steven Woolf, told VCU News: “Contrary to sceptics who claim that COVID-19 deaths are fake or that the numbers are much smaller than we hear on the news, our research and many other studies on the same subject show quite the opposite.” The claim in the tweet the US is on track for a lower death rate in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic has also been debunked here and here.  Experts say the US will likely record hundreds of thousands of “excess deaths” this year.  The Verdict AAP FactCheck found the claims in the Instagram post to be false. It includes data that understates the US death toll in 2020, and makes incorrect assumptions based on the quoted figures. Up-to-date figures from the CDC indicate that the US is on track for a much higher death toll in 2020 than previous years, while research shows a there have been a significant number of “excess deaths” recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic. False – Content that has no basis in fact. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://com.au/

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Is Daniel Andrews really a multimillionaire?

The Statement A social media post claims Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews the “famous politician” has a net worth of $91 million – with one Facebook user questioning how he managed to earn the large sum as a public servant. The Facebook post includes an image stating the sum, adding that he “earned the money being a professional Politician”. The text in the image cites “Wikipedia, Forbes, IMDb & Various Online resources” as the sources of its information. The caption on the post reads: “Please explain how you got this money being a public servant?” At the time of writing, the October 12 post had been viewed more than 22,000 times and shared more than 370 times.  A Facebook post claims Daniel Andrews’ net worth is million.  The Analysis While the Victorian premier is the highest-paid state or territory leader in Australia, there is no evidence that his net worth is $91 million – nor do any of the stated resources include references to his purported wealth. Daniel Andrews has been premier of Victoria since December 2014 after serving as opposition leader (2010-2014) and a minister in the Labor governments led by Steve Bracks and John Brumby. He was first elected to the state parliament in the seat of Mulgrave in 2002. The Facebook post claims information about the premier’s net worth was sourced from Wikipedia, Forbes and IMDb, but AAP FactCheck found no evidence that these sources provide any information about his wealth. The Victorian premier’s Wikipedia entry makes no mention of his net worth, only including a line about a salary increase in 2019. That year, Mr Andrews became the highest-paid state leader in Australia after the Victorian Independent Remuneration Tribunal increased his total salary and allowances to $441,439. This consisted of the base salary of $182,413 received by all the state’s MPs, an additional premier’s salary of $203,542 and an expense allowance of $55,484. Assuming Mr Andrews paid tax on the full sum, he would be left with an after-tax income of $269,594 based on rates for the 2019-20 financial year. If he were to continue on that income, it would take the premier more than 337 years to amass a fortune of $91 million. AAP FactCheck also found no information relating to the premier’s net worth on the Forbes website nor on his listing on film information site IMDb. However, the text in the Facebook image matches wording used on the website Trend Celebs Now, although the site’s name is missing from the post. Under a heading ‘Daniel Andrews  (sic) Net Worth’, the website lists the premier’s net worth and annual salary as “under review”. Members of the Victorian parliament are required to submit regular returns detailing financial and other interests that are relevant to their public roles. Under the relevant laws, anyone who breaches the disclosure rules can be held in contempt of the state parliament, fined or even pursued for criminal charges. According to the most recent Register of Interests, dated July 28, Mr Andrews’ only asset was his home in Mulgrave in Melbourne’s southeast (page 29). According to the Herald-Sun, Mr Andrews bought a house in Mulgrave in 2002 for around $251,000, although in 2016 the newspaper put its value at “closer to $1 million”. The median sale price for a three-bedroom home in Mulgrave during the past 12 months is $826,000, according to Domain.  Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews lists his only asset as a home in the Melbourne suburb of Mulgrave.  The Verdict There is no evidence that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has a net worth of $91 million. The sources cited in the post contain no information to corroborate the claim, while Mr Andrews’ declared interests indicate that his only asset is a house in Melbourne and his only regular income is his parliamentary salary. False – Content that has no basis in fact. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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False Ardern dairy quote milked for all its worth

The Statement A Facebook meme features a purported quote by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern which reads, “Dairy farming is a world of the past.” The meme, posted to a pro-National Facebook page, features a photo of Ms Ardern alongside the comment: “#BREAKING Labour will never support our farmers.” The September 22 post had attracted more than 1400 comments, 1900 reactions and 920 shares at the time of writing.  A Facebook meme features a purported quote by NZ PM Jacinda Ardern on dairy farming.  The Analysis The meme misquotes the New Zealand prime minister and makes a point about dairy farming that Jacinda Ardern never addressed during the televised leaders’ debate between her and National leader Judith Collins on September 22. Despite the quote’s inaccuracies being reported by the media following the leadership debate, several National MPs also shared it on their Facebook pages. AAP FactCheck found that minutes before the meme was posted on the National Party’s Meme Working Group Facebook page, the National Party’s official Twitter account tweeted: “Did…. did @jacindaardern just say that the world of farming is in the past? Outrageous. Our Farmers are 64% more emissions efficient than the global average. Our farmers are already the most emissions efficient producers of milk in the world. #LeadersDebate #YourFuture.” AAP FactCheck examined the section of the debate from which the purported quote was taken. In this video of the debate (mark 1hr 22min 24sec), Ms Ardern says: “If I may, that feels to me like the view of a world that has passed.” Dairy farming is not mentioned in the prime minister’s statement. To understand the quote’s context, Ms Ardern’s initial statement (mark 1hr 21min 15sec) was: “But on the issue of change that we are all facing in New Zealand, I absolutely accept that when we are looking at what our export markets are seeking now, they want to know that you are, that we are, producing our food sustainably, that we’re mindful of climate change, biodiversity, and water quality. And that creates pressure on all of us. “My view is that we’ve got to do this together. The work we’ve done this year has been by building consensus – a historic agreement called He Waka Eke Noa is all about how we as New Zealand, alongside our farmers, will face our climate challenges. And I am so proud of that, because we did that alongside our farmers and primary producers.” He Waka Eke Noa is the name of the partnership agreement between the NZ government, the primary sector and Maori industry leaders to reduce emissions in the farming sector. The backdrop of Ms Ardern’s comment was a point about consensus between the primary sector and government, and how the government had worked alongside farmers and primary producers on issues such as climate change and biodiversity. Ms Collins understood the point but disagreed with its premise (mark 1hr 21min 55sec): “Actually farmers aren’t feeling like that, John (Campbell, debate moderator). Farmers are feeling like they’re bagged all the time by this government. Remember ‘dirty dairying’? That was the Greens and Labour going into that. “You know, John, when I grew up being a dairy farmer’s kid I was so proud, I was proud as punch. And now I’ve got dairy farmers saying to me, young dairy farmers, saying ‘I’m only a dairy farmer’. Because they feel that they have got the weight of the world on them.” It was at that point Ms Ardern responded with her comment, “If I may, that feels to me like the view of a world that has passed.” She continued by saying she met with primary producers and they “absolutely see the need for us to be competitive in this environment” before referencing climate change and sustainability. AAP FactCheck contacted National MPs Harete Hipango and Matt King for comment regarding their sharing of the meme but received no reply. However, Ms Collins reportedly refused to criticise the pair for the posts, saying the MPs were “genuinely reflecting what they believe”. The reposting of the meme on Ms Hipango’s Facebook page had been shared 89 times, attracting more than 400 comments and 200 reactions at the time of writing. The post on Mr King’s Facebook page, which included the caption “unbelieveable from the Labour leader tonight”, had been shared 49 times, attracting 294 comments and 300 reactions. The Facebook post misquotes Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on dairy farming in New Zealand.  The Verdict The Facebook meme misquotes and misrepresents the New Zealand prime minister’s comments during the leaders’ debate on September 22. It is not a direct quote and it falsely credits Jacinda Ardern with saying that dairy farming was a world of the past. False – The primary claim within this Facebook post is inaccurate. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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National misleads with NZ renewable energy claims

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Did the proportion of renewable electricity generation increase faster under the previous National government than the current Labour leadership – and was National responsible for this? The Statement “When we were in government we increased renewable energy from 65.4 per cent to 81.9 per cent. In the last three years this government has increased it by another 0.5 per cent.” Simeon Brown, National Party MP,  September 28, 2020. The Analysis The National Party is claiming the proportion of electricity coming from renewable sources increased more when it was in power than under the Labour-led government, while also taking credit for that rise. The Labour Party agreed on a plan to transition to 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2035 in the party’s confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party from October 2017 (page 3). In September 2020, Labour said it would bring forward the target to 2030 if it was re-elected. But during TVNZ’s Young Voters’ Debate on Monday September 28, National Party MP Simeon Brown said the proportion of renewable generation had increased more during the previous National government than under Labour. (Video mark 51min 44secs). “They talk about wanting to have 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030,” Mr Brown said. “At the last election they said it was 100 per cent renewable by 2035. Well the actual fact is when we were in government we increased renewable energy from 65.4 per cent to 81.9 per cent. “In the last three years this government has increased it by another 0.5 per cent.” AAP FactCheck examined Mr Brown’s statement that the proportion of renewable energy generation increased from 65.4 per cent to 81.9 per cent under the National government, and a further 0.5 per cent under the Labour-led government. The claim that National was responsible for the rise during its term of government is also examined. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) reports on the make-up of NZ’s electricity sector each quarter. Mr Brown appears to be using calendar-year figures from the report (table 2). The previous National government was elected on November 8, 2008, and figures for that year show 65.4 per cent of the country’s electricity came from renewable sources at the time. The party left government on September 23, 2017. That year, 81.9 per cent of the country’s electricity came from renewables – matching the figures Mr Brown quoted. The Labour-led government formed on October 19, 2017. The MBIE data shows in 2019 the share of electricity that came from renewable sources was 82.4 per cent, an increase of 0.5 percentage points since 2017. Quarterly figures are also available and more closely align with the terms of the two governments (table 1). Figures for the year to September 2008 show 64.0 per cent of the country’s electricity came from renewable sources prior to National taking power, but that proportion increased to 83.5 per cent for the year to September 2017. The most recent figures, for the year to June 2020, show renewable sources made up 82.2 per cent of all electricity generation, a decrease of 1.3 percentage points on the year before Labour formed government. The figures show that most of the gains in renewable energy during National’s three terms in government came from a greater reliance on hydro and geothermal-generated power. Between 2008 and 2017, coal-powered generation dropped 74.9 per cent, while gas-powered generation was down around one-third. Since the Labour coalition came to power, coal-fired generation more than doubled, based on figures for the year to June, although coal only made up around 4.4 per cent of net generation in the latest 12-month period. Gas generation has fallen slightly during the term of the Labour government. In his statement, Mr Brown took credit for the increase in renewable generation under National, saying “we increased renewable energy” before quoting the relevant figures, and pointing to a lower increase from the current government However, MBIE’s annual report on the energy sector said renewable generation decreased in 2019 primarily due to lower rainfall during the drought resulting in less hydro electricity generation (page 12). It said coal-powered generation was increased to make up for the shortfall and because of a shortage in gas due to maintenance at the Pohokura gas field (page 14). It should also be noted that the proportion of renewable electricity has fluctuated significantly since records began in 1974. For example, in 1980 91.3 per cent of electricity generation was from renewable sources, while 2001 had the lowest proportion of renewable generation, at 64.7 per cent. Experts warned against crediting National with changes in the renewable energy makeup during its last period of government. University of Auckland senior economics lecturer Stephen Poletti has written multiple papers on New Zealand’s electricity market. He told AAP FactCheck geothermal electricity generation increased under the National government and gas power plants were retired for financial reasons. “This was nothing to do with any policies to have more renewable electricity,” Dr Poletti said. “There was not a single policy measure in place to increase renewable generation under the last government apart from the ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) which had a carbon price of zero over most of the time National was last in power.” Chair of the Sustainable Energy Systems department at Victoria University of Wellington Professor Alan Brent said governments historically haven’t determined the make-up of electricity generation and construction of renewable generation has been driven by market forces rather than government policy.  The share of electricity coming from renewable sources has fallen under the Labour government.  The Verdict AAP FactCheck found that Mr Brown’s statement was misleading. While he quoted correct figures showing renewable electricity generation increased from 65.4 per cent to 81.9 per cent under the previous National government, and by only 0.5 per cent under the Labour-led administration, experts say these changes have largely been independent of government policy. An MBIE report said renewable generation was down recently due to drought, while historic figures show New Zealand has at times received more than 90 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources before either the most recent National or Labour governments took power. Misleading –  The claim is accurate in parts but information has also been presented incorrectly, out of context or omitted. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/ Updated October 1, 2020 1515 AEST: Headline amended to remove reference to misleading “figures”.

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NZ PM makes flawed claim about police numbers under National

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Did the number of police decline when National Party leader Judith Collins’ was police minister?  The Statement “When Judith was Minister of Police, the police numbers declined on her watch.” Jacinda Ardern, Labour Party leader and NZ Prime Minister, September 30, 2020. The Analysis Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern has attacked National Party leader Judith Collins‘ record on law and order issues, claiming Ms Collins presided over a reduction in police numbers. During the Newshub Leaders Debate on September 30, Ms Collins said gang numbers had increased under Ms Ardern’s government, but Ms Ardern said Ms Collins had “no credibility on gangs”. (Video mark 44min, 45sec). “When Judith was Minister of Police, the police numbers declined on her watch,” Ms Ardern said. “No credibility.” AAP FactCheck has examined Ms Ardern’s claim that there was a decrease in the number of police under Ms Collins. Ms Collins was police minister under the previous National government between November 2008 and December 2011 and again from December 2015 to December 2016. In an emailed statement provided to AAP FactCheck in August, NZ Police outlined yearly constabulary numbers from June 2008 to June 2020. The figures, which are not routinely published nor publicly available, show police officer numbers as distinct from the total number of NZ Police employees. According to NZ Police, in June 2008, there were 8,211 police officers. Ms Collins first became police minister in November 2008. The NZ Police figures show officer numbers then rose to 8,643 in June 2009 and 8,707 in June 2010, before dropping to 8,638 in June 2011. Ms Collins’ portfolios changed in December 2011, but she returned to the role of police minister in December 2015. There were 8,923 police officers in June 2015 and this dropped to 8,899 in June 2016. Ms Collins portfolios changed again in December 2016. While there were some year-on-year decreases in the number of police officers during Ms Collins’ stints as police minister, officer numbers increased overall by 688. However, when measured as a ratio of the population of New Zealand, police numbers decreased. According to a table of Census data showing the past 29 years, there were an estimated 4,259,800 people resident in NZ in June 2008. The population rose to 4,302,600 in June 2009; 4,350,700 in June 2010; 4,384,000 in June 2011; 4,585,600 in June 2015; and 4,678,100 in June 2016. AAP FactCheck calculated police numbers as a ratio of the resident population for the years in which Ms Collins was police minister by dividing the population figures by the constabulary numbers for the corresponding year. This revealed there was one police officer for every 519 NZ residents in June 2008, one for every 498 residents in June 2009, 1/500 in 2010, 1/507 in 2011, 1/514 in 2015 and 1/526 in 2016.  NZ PM Jacinda Ardern says National leader Judith Collins was behind a decline in police numbers.  The Verdict NZ Police data shows actual police numbers rose between 2008 and 2016, during which time Ms Collins served two distinct periods as police minister. When police numbers are described as an officer to resident ratio, they show an improvement during Ms Collins’ first period as police minister (from 1/519 in 2008 to 1/507 in 2011). However, during Ms Collins’ second run as police minister, population growth in NZ largely outstripped the growth in police numbers (1/514 in 2015 to 1/526 in 2016). This is also true when you compare police to resident ratios for 2008 to the same data for 2016. This means Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern is only correct to say police numbers fell under Ms Collins when those figures are expressed as police per head of population. Somewhat False – The claim has a problem or inaccuracy but it does contain a significant element or elements of truth. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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Death rate figures for COVID-19 don’t add up

The Statement A Facebook post used incorrect figures about death rates as a result of COVID-19 to deny the existence of the pandemic. The September 25 post by celebrity chef Pete Evans reads: “The truth is that this has never been a pandemic nor has it ever been about protecting people’s health. Quite the opposite. This has been about fear, control, $$$ and a new vaccine. “Can we please move onto the alien invasion now, as the covid boogeyman has well and truly vanished (unless you still trust Polititcians (sic), health ‘experts’ and the MSM who all rely on this dragging out for as long as possible for their own benefits and agendas).” A graphic from Fox News is included in the post showing purported COVID-19 infection fatality rates by a range of ages with the figures attributed to the CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Under the heading “INFECTION FATALITY RATIO – IF INFECTED”, rates are presented as: 0-19 years, .00003%; 20-49 years, .0002%; 50-69 years, .005%; 70+ years, .054%. At the time of writing, the September 25 post has been viewed more than 47,000 times and shared more than 630 times, attracting more than 2300 reactions and 290 comments.  A post shares incorrect figures about COVID-19 death rates to deny the existence of the pandemic.  The Analysis COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on March 11. As of September 29, there have been 33,249,563 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,000,040 deaths, according to the WHO. However official figures relating to the pandemic have been the subject of numerous false and misleading claims as some question the seriousness of the virus. In the graphic included in the Facebook post, the COVID-19 infection fatality ratio was presented as: 0-19 years, .00003%; 20-49 years, .0002%; 50-69 years, .005%; 70+ years, .054%. The figures are an erroneous interpretation of figures presented by CDC. Included in the article COVID19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios, updated on the CDC’s website on September 10, there is a table showing the “current best estimate” of infection fatality ratios. These are 0-19 years, 0.00003; 20-49 years, 0.0002; 50-69 years, 0.005; 70+ years, 0.054. However, the figures are ratios, meaning they have to be multiplied by 100 to get a percentage. Thus the correct percentages of deaths among those infected with COVID-19 in each age cohort, according to the CDC figures, are: 0-19 years, .003%; 20-49 years, .02%; 50-69 years, .5%; 70+ years, 5.4%. These rates are 100 times higher than those included in the post graphic. The graphic in the post was shown during the Fox News show The Ingraham Angle on September 23 in which host Laura Ingraham discussed the CDC data. A transcript from the show provided to AAP FactCheck by Fox News includes Ingraham citing the survival rate for the 0-19 years age group as 99.997 per cent, and 94 per cent for people age 70 and over. Fox News confirmed to AAP FactCheck in an email that figures in the graphic were incorrect. A spokesperson pointed to Ingraham’s correct quoting of the data while adding “the percentage symbols in the graphic were shown in error”. Michael Plank, a professor of Applied Mathematics at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury and a COVID-19 modeller, also confirmed to AAP FactCheck via email that the figures in the graphic were out by a factor of 100. Another study, from France, broadly supports the CDC data. It found the overall fatality rate to be 0.5 per cent for those infected with COVID-19. When broken down by age group, the fatality rate ranged from 0.001 per cent in those aged under 20 to 8.3 per cent in the 80-and-over cohort.  Numerous false and misleading claims have been made about COVID-19 death rates.  The Verdict The figures shared in the Facebook post about death rates as a result of COVID-19 infections are false. Fox News confirmed to AAP FactCheck the percentage symbols included alongside the figures in the graph were shown in error. The graphic incorrectly presents CDC estimates of fatality ratios as percentages. The real CDC estimates are 100 times higher than those shown in the image when expressed as percentages. False – The primary claim within this Facebook post is inaccurate. Updated Monday, October 12, 2020 14:04 AEDT: Corrects reference to testing positive to COVID-19 in sixth par of Analysis to infected with COVID-19. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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Are tourists and international students still contributing to the NZ economy?

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Has the New Zealand economy lost a combined $21 billion in exports from tourism and international students? The Statement “We’ve lost $21 billion in exports from international tourism and international students just by itself.” Judith Collins, National Party leader, September 30, 2020. The Analysis National Party leader Judith Collins claims the country has lost $21 billion in exports from international students and tourists, and the country needs to invest in developing the tech sector to revive the economy. New Zealand’s borders were closed to everyone except residents and citizens on March 19 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, blocking tourists and international students from entering the country. The move has devastated the two sectors, and the government has responded by providing more than $50m to prop up education institutions and $400m to help the tourism industry. During the Newshub Leaders Debate on Wednesday September 30, Ms Collins and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were both asked how the country could capitalise on its COVID-19 response to “push NZ forward”. National Party leader Judith Collins said: “We’ve lost $21b in exports from international tourism and international students just by itself.” (Video mark 17min, 58sec). “But what we can do is we’ve got $8b in exports in technology … I announced a tech policy about turning New Zealand into a tech centre, particularly a tech bubble for the South Pacific.” AAP FactCheck examined Ms Collins statement that New Zealand has lost $21b in exports from international tourism and international students. Stats NZ reports on tourism export figures in its annual Tourism Satellite Account. The latest figures were released in December 2019, and cover the year to March 2019. This shows that international tourism expenditure was $17.2b and contributed 20.4 per cent to New Zealand’s total exports of goods and services. The figures also include expenditure from international students who studied in the country for less than 12 months. These students spent $3.9 billion, comprised of course fees, living costs, and airfares on resident airlines. Based on these figures, international tourism and students contributed $21.1b to the economy in 2019. However, these figures may underestimate the total contribution of international students to the economy. A 2018 government report found the sector contributed $5.1b to the economy, supporting 49,631 jobs. Whereas Ms Collins indicated the entire $21b export value of the sector had been lost, Stats NZ figures for the June quarter show both sectors are still contributing to the economy, despite the border closures. But the statistics show spending by international visitors and students was down 50.3 per cent to $1.76b compared to the same period last year. Stats NZ international statistics senior manager Peter Dolan said spending by visitors did not stop when the borders closed because there were still tens of thousands of visitors already in the country. In mid-March it was estimated there were between 240,000 and 260,000 visitors in New Zealand, and by August there were still between 90,000 and 120,000 visitors.  Tourism and international students are still contributing to the NZ economy, despite border closures  The Verdict Based on the latest available data, AAP FactCheck found the New Zealand economy has not lost $21 billion from tourism and international students. The border closure has severely impacted the two industries, but figures for the June quarter show spending by international students and tourists was only down 50 per cent and had not evaporated in its entirety. False – The checkable claim is false. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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Anti-Daniel Andrews flag an altered replica of Biden banner

The Statement A Facebook post shows a picture of a purported banner disparaging the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and the people who voted for him. The post on the Aussie Bogans Facebook page features two images of a pick-up truck displaying a blue red and white banner on the back which reads, “F*** ANDREWS AND F*** YOU FOR VOTING FOR HIM” with five stars underneath. The post’s caption says, “If you see this guy buy the man a beer”, an apparent reference to the truck’s driver. At the time of writing, the September 28 post has been shared more than 800 times and attracted more than 900 reactions and 170 comments.  A post purportedly shows a picture of a banner disparaging the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.  The Analysis Premier Daniel Andrews has attracted strong reactions from many Victorians for his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, however the image has been altered from an identical picture with US presidential candidate Joe Biden’s name featured on the flag. AAP FactCheck found the flag, featuring the message “F*** BIDEN AND F*** YOU FOR VOTING FOR HIM” being sold online here and here. US social media posts showing the anti-Biden flag on the back of the pick-up truck date back to at least September 21 and a reverse image search linked it to a Tumblr account which stated the photo was taken in Erie, Pennsylvania. Norstar, whose logo is featured on the pickup truck in the Facebook post, is based in Texas. The company’s website does not list any dealerships in Australia. AAP FactCheck traced the earliest example of the flag reading “F*** ANDREWS AND F*** YOU FOR VOTING FOR HIM” in an otherwise-identical image to September 27. A list of examples showing both Andrews’ and Biden’s name on the flag can be seen here.  The Facebook post’s image has been altered from a pic with Joe Biden’s surname on the flag.  The Verdict The Facebook post photo has been altered from an identical image with the name “Biden” on the flag, AAP FactCheck has determined based on the evidence. The image with Biden’s name on the flag dates back to at least September 21, while the earliest version with Andrews name is from September 27. Other identifiers and posts corroborate that it was originally taken in the US. Altered Photo – The image has been edited or synthesised beyond adjustments for clarity or quality, in ways that could mislead people. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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NZ National overstates impact of oil and gas exploration ban

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Is New Zealand using more coal because of the government’s offshore oil and gas exploration ban? The Statement “The oil and gas exploration ban, what did that do, actually, our coal use has now gone up so now we’ve got more coal being used instead of natural gas to actually create electricity.” Judith Collins, National Party leader, September 30, 2020. The Analysis National Party leader Judith Collins says the government’s efforts to combat climate change have backfired and New Zealand is using more coal as a result of its offshore oil and gas exploration ban. In April 2018, the Labour-led government announced it would not issue any new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration. The policy became law in February 2019. During the Newshub Leaders’ Debate on September 30, Ms Collins said the policy had resulted in an increase in carbon emissions. (Video mark 1hr, 8min, 30secs). “The oil and gas exploration ban, what did that do, actually our coal use has now gone up so now we’ve got more coal being used instead of natural gas to actually create electricity,” Ms Collins said. AAP FactCheck examined Ms Collins statement that coal use had gone up and more coal is being used to generate electricity instead of gas, as a result of the government’s offshore oil and gas exploration ban. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) publishes figures on coal consumption, which do not show an increase in coal consumption after the ban became law. Quarterly MBIE figures show coal consumption declined by 27 per cent between the December 2018 quarter – before the oil and gas exploration ban came into effect – and the June 2020 quarter (table 1). As the quarterly figures fluctuate a lot, AAP FactCheck also looked at annual figures. Figures for the year to June 2020 show coal consumption declined by three per cent between 2018 and 2020, from 1,157,243 tonnes to 1,153,579 tonnes. MBIE also reports quarterly on the make-up of New Zealand’s electricity generation (table 1). Figures for the year to June show coal-powered electricity generation increased by 51.6 per cent between 2018 and 2020, from 1261GWh to 1912GWh. The figures also show gas-powered electricity generation declined by 10.3 per cent, from 6,354GWh in 2018 to 5,701GWh in 2020. However, MBIE’s annual report on the energy sector said the increase in coal-powered generation was due to lower hydro electricity generation as the result of a dry year and maintenance at NZ’s largest gas field, which reduced the supply of gas (page 14). “Electricity generation from coal increased by 43 per cent in 2019,” the report said. “This was due to the need for non-renewable generation as a result of less favourable hydrological conditions, and gas outages meaning that there was less gas available for electricity generation use.” (page 14) The report does not mention that the oil and gas exploration ban has had an impact on the supply of gas. It shows gas production is expected to increase in the near future before steadily declining (page 43, Fig E.7). The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) investigated the impact of the government’s oil and gas exploration ban and noted that the recent increase in coal-powered generation was “not because of the ban” (page 40). It found that, in future, a reduction in gas supply for electricity generation could result in more coal being used as it is currently the cheapest substitute (page 40). But it said “coal is unlikely to play a role in New Zealand’s electricity sector for much longer” due to the Emissions Trading Scheme and coal being phased out by major generators (page 41). It found New Zealand’s remaining gas reserves would probably be sufficient for intermittent electricity generation when hydro dams are low “for several decades to come, albeit at a higher cost than at present” (page 39). National Party energy and resources spokesperson Jonathan Young made similar claims about the government’s oil and gas exploration ban in September which he later admitted was “completely wrong”.  National says an oil and gas exploration ban means coal is being used more to generate electricity.  The Verdict AAP FactCheck found the statement that coal use has gone up and more coal is being used to generate electricity as a result of the government’s offshore oil and gas exploration ban to be mostly false. Overall, coal consumption has declined since the ban came into effect, but Ms Collins was correct that coal-powered electricity generation has increased and gas-powered generation has decreased. However, this does not appear to be the result of the government’s offshore oil and gas exploration ban. MBIE said coal-powered generation increased because the hydro dams were low during a dry period and maintenance at a major gas field caused a reduction in the supply of gas. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment also found the increase in coal-powered generation was not because of the oil and gas exploration ban and New Zealand had enough reserves for electricity generation for several decades. Mostly False – The claim is mostly false with one minor element of truth. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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Manipulated Collins quote misrepresents praise for Trump

The Statement A meme circulated by a pro-Labour Facebook page quotes New Zealand’s National Party leader, Judith Collins, as praising US president Donald Trump during the second debate of the 2020 election campaign. The post features Ms Collins’ image alongside the quote: “He’s a damn sight better than any of the other Presidents that have been there before him, including those that you admire, Miss Ardern.” Below the image are the words: “Judith Collins on Donald Trump.” The October 1 Facebook post from the Backing the Kiwi Meme page is a screengrab of a Twitter post that carried the meme. The caption on Facebook reads: “Yikes.” At the time of writing, the post had been shared more than 740 times, attracting over 2300 reactions and 870 comments.  A meme with a purported Judith Collins quote praising Donald Trump is circulating on social media.  The Analysis During the Newshub Leaders Debate on October 30, New Zealand’s two major party leaders touched on numerous topics, including US President Donald Trump. Moderator Patrick Gower asked both leaders if they thought Mr Trump was “dangerous influence on the world”. (1hr 22min 35sec mark) During the subsequent discussion, National leader Judith Collins referred to a recent agreement Mr Trump brokered to normalise relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, an agreement signed September 15. It makes UAE only the third Arab state to formally recognise and open diplomatic relations with Israel, and the first since Jordan in 1994. “(Mr Trump) has actually done some quite recent stuff with Israel and UAE and so actually that’s better than war, don’t you think?,” Collins said in response to Gower’s question. “He hasn’t been ready to rush into war.” “It is a worry when the best thing you can say is at least we haven’t had war,” Labour leader Jacinda Ardern responded. Ms Collins continued: “Well actually it’s a damn sight better than any of the other presidents that have been there before, including those that you admire, Ms Ardern. Actually I think keeping away from war is a good thing.” Former US secretary of defense Robert Gates, who served under both presidents George Bush and Barack Obama, recently delivered similar praise on Meet the Press, saying: “Unlike (Mr Trump’s) three predecessors … at least he hasn’t started any new wars.” (6min 11sec mark) Earlier Ms Collins said she thought Mr Trump “could have done better” with the COVID-19 response in the United States, and both leaders said they would work with whichever candidate won the election. While the quote included in the Facebook meme is largely accurate, the word “it’s” in Ms Collins’ debate response – a reference to Mr Trump’s record in initiating wars – has been replaced with “he’s”, wrongly implying that the National leader said the current US president was better than all those before him.  National leader Judith Collins praised US President Donald Trump for not starting any wars.  The Verdict The Facebook meme includes a largely accurate quote, however a key word has been changed that alters its meaning. Ms Collins did not say Donald Trump was “a damn sight better” than previous presidents, only that it was better he had not started any wars, unlike his predecessors. Partly False – Content that has some factual inaccuracies. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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Post misleads on Australian COVID-19 death data

The Statement A Facebook post claims a Department of Health report reveals that COVID-19 death figures for Australia have been dramatically overstated and the real tally is less than one-tenth of the official count. The post, headlined “There is ‘NO’ Covid Pandemic,” claims that the COVID-19 Epidemiology Report “proves with its own evidence the 29 August 2020 deaths were ‘not’ 600! The true Covid deaths are only 54!”. It goes on to claim, “The deaths recorded show 91% of deaths had massive ‘Comorbidity’ diseases of chronic cardiac disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease or dying of old age. 54 deaths in a 25 million population is ‘not’ a pandemic!”. At the time of writing, the post had been shared more than 325 times and received more than 35,000 views.  A post claims a Department of Health report reveals COVID-19 death figures have been overstated.  The Analysis The Facebook post is one of a series of claims circulating on social media – see examples here, here and here – claiming that COVID-19 deaths are far fewer than the numbers being reported by governments. These posts often misrepresent what comorbidities are and how they are catalogued in relation to COVID-19-linked deaths. The latest post reinterprets sections of an Australian Department of Health report on Communicable Diseases Intelligence to make incorrect claims that there is no pandemic and that only nine per cent of Australian COVID-19 deaths were caused by the virus. A comorbidity means the existence of two or more diseases in a person at one time, according to a 2016 paper by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. These diseases may be unrelated but many share common risk factors. The Facebook post claims that the fatal COVID-19 cases were also suffering “massive comorbidity diseases”. A comorbidity is not by definition a fatal illness – it can include such conditions as obesity, diabetes, arthritis, asthma and back pain, according to the Department of Health report (table 7, page 16). A spokesperson for the Department of Health told AAP FactCheck via email that the fatalities listed in the August 2 report are directly linked to COVID-19. “State and territory health departments only report to the NNDSS (National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System) COVID-19 deaths where it is considered that COVID-19 was the primary or a contributing cause of their death,” the spokesperson said. The post also incorrectly quotes “91% of deaths” as having comorbidities, when this figure in the report relates to all hospitalised patients whose data was captured by facilities using the sentinel events tracking system (see report page 14). Dr Craig Dalton, an epidemiologist at the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle, said the post contained false information. He said the Department of Health report “lists the comorbidities that fatal cases had at the time of death”. “These included a wide range of illnesses including diabetes and obesity – two diseases that many people are diagnosed with in their 20s or 30s but go on to live with for many years. Many of the other diseases listed could allow people to live for decades,” he told AAP FactCheck via email. “It can be assumed that all of the people who require (intensive) care for significant lung damage from COVID-19 who have a fatal outcome would not have died at that time if they had not had COVID-19.” Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist from the University of Wollongong, described the post as misleading. “(It) is basically disinformation. Broadly we would expect most people who die of anything to have more than one contributing factor,” he told AAP FactCheck in an email. Mr Meyerowitz-Katz has written about similar claims on US COVID-19 death data and concluded they were wrong and misleading. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has also published guidelines for certifying deaths due to COVID-19 and notes that the coronavirus should be included whenever it was a contributing factor. “The new coronavirus strain (COVID-19) should be recorded on the medical cause of death certificate for ALL decedents where the disease caused, or is assumed to have caused, or contributed to death,” the guidelines state. In a previous AAP FactCheck relating to CDC COVID-19 death figures and comorbidities, the US National Center of Health Statistics noted that many comorbidities develop as a result of COVID-19. “These causes may include chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension,” the US National Center of Health Statistics told AAP FactCheck at the time. “They may also include acute conditions that occurred as a result of COVID-19, such as pneumonia or respiratory failure.”  A Facebook post claims ‘real’ COVID-19 deaths are far fewer than those reported by governments.  The Verdict AAP FactCheck found the claims in the Facebook post to be false. The post incorrectly claims that there “is no COVID pandemic” by misinterpreting comorbidity data from the Australian Department of Health report to wrongly suggest there were fewer coronavirus-related deaths than those reported in official figures. False – The primary claims within the post are inaccurate. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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Are gangs using fake babies to lure Australian motorists?

The Statement A social media post claims police have issued a warning for people to be wary of gangs using children’s car seats draped in blankets at the side of the road to lure drivers into stopping before the criminals attack and rob them. A Facebook post, from a user whose profile states she lives in northern NSW, says police issued the warning after a person “driving on a rural end of the roadway” saw “an infant car seat on the side of the road with a blanket draped over it”. The post claims when the driver called the police to report the incident, they were told “gangs are placing a car seat by the road…with a fake baby in it…waiting for a woman, of course, to stop and check on the abandoned baby”. It continues by saying that police told the caller to “note that the location of this car seat is usually beside a wooded or grassy (field) area and the person  — woman  — will be dragged into the woods, beaten and raped, and usually left for dead. If it’s a man, they’re usually beaten and robbed and maybe left for dead, too”. The post also urges drivers who have eggs thrown at their windscreens during these attacks to not stop their cars or operate the windscreen wipers. “Eggs mixed with water become milky and block your vision up to 92.5%, and you are then forced to stop beside the road and become a victim of these criminals,” the post claims. The September 24 post had been shared more than 15,000 times, attracting more than 1500 comments and 1400 reactions at the time of writing.  A purported police warning about gangs using fake babies to lure unsuspecting drivers.  The Analysis While the Facebook user claims in the post that the described events happened to them, the language and the punctuation mirrors that used in other posts dating back to as early as 2009. One Facebook version, from 2013, includes references to Eastern Europe and 999 – the emergency number used in the United Kingdom and several other former colonies – which have been altered in the version shared among Australian users, which lists the emergency number as 000. Otherwise, the posts are virtually identical, including the use of capitals for “police” and the placement of punctuation such as ellipses. In late 2009, US fact-checking organisation Snopes debunked a similar hoax. It said the rumour of gangs using bloodied car seats to lure female motorists from the vehicles had been attributed to two US police departments, which said the information was either false or could not be verified. The text of the earlier purported gang warning, as reported by Snopes, again includes near-identical wording and punctuation to the version being shared in Australia. Meanwhile, fact-checking website Hoax Slayer debunked another near-identical version of the claim when it surfaced in the UK in 2019. Sussex Police confirmed it had not issued the warning at the time. The latest version of the post did not specify where the alleged event took place, however the user’s Facebook profile stated that they were based in northern NSW. The same post was shared later on September 24 by a user whose profile stated they lived in Brisbane. When contacted by AAP FactCheck, NSW Police declined to comment on the post. However a search of keywords included in the post showed no record of any related warning being issued by the police service, nor were there any similar alerts posted on the Facebook pages for NSW Police or the local police command. The claim about criminals throwing eggs at drivers’ windscreens to block visibility and force cars to stop to carry out robberies has also been repeatedly debunked (see here, here and here). A video testing the theory that eggs smashed on a windscreen would block visibility also found there were “no problems whatsoever” for wipers to clear the debris.  The claims in the Facebook post do not tally with any official warnings from police.  The Verdict Near-identical claims about gangs setting infant car seat traps near roads to lure victims have been circulating online since at least 2009, however there is no evidence to suggest the tactic has been deployed as claimed. The latest post from a NSW-based Facebook user repeats the same baseless suggestions, which do not tally with any official warnings from local police. False – The primary claim within the post is factually inaccurate. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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NZ Greens cite outdated greenhouse gas figures

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Have greenhouse gas emissions from the construction industry increased by two-thirds over the past decade? The Statement “Emissions from the construction sector have also increased by two-thirds over the last decade.” James Shaw, Green Party co-leader, October 5, 2020. The Analysis The New Zealand Green Party says it wants to reduce greenhouse emissions from the construction industry, which it claims have increased significantly over the past decade. The party released its sustainable building policy on October 5 and Stuff reported that Green Party co-leader James Shaw said emissions from the construction industry had increased significantly. “Emissions from the construction sector have also increased by two-thirds over the last decade,” Mr Shaw said. “If we continue on this path, we risk locking in higher emissions for decades to come.” AAP FactCheck examined Mr Shaw’s statement that emissions from construction have increased by two-thirds over the past decade. Mr Shaw’s office said the statement was based on figures from a 2019 Stats NZ report, Environmental-economic Accounts: 2019, which includes emissions from a range of industries between 2007 and 2017. A summary of the report said emissions in the construction industry had increased 66 per cent in the 10 years between 2007 and 2017. However, these figures were updated in June with emissions up to 2018, which is the most recent year for which data is available. Figures accompanying the latest report show emissions in the construction sector had increased by 60.2% in the 10 years from 2008 to 2018, from 769 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to 1,232 (table 2).  Greenhouse gas emissions from the NZ construction industry are targeted in a new Green Party policy.  The Verdict AAP FactCheck found the statement that emissions from the construction sector have increased by two-thirds over the last decade to be somewhat true. While a report released last year found emissions from the sector increased by 66 per cent in the 10 years to 2017, the most recent figures show emissions increased at the lower rate of 60.2 per cent in the 10 years to 2018. Somewhat True – A part or parts of the claim are accurate but there is also a significant problem or inaccuracy. Updated Monday October 12, 2020 0902 AEDT: Amends year range in paragraph six and eight of the Analysis and second paragraph of Verdict to 10 years, and updates percentages based on new year range. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://factcheck.aap.com.au/

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Has NZ spent more on Corrections in two years than on all Treaty of Waitangi settlements?

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Is two years of Vote Corrections funding more than the total amount spent on all Treaty of Waitangi settlements? The Statement “Two years of Corrections’ vote is more than all the money paid out in all treaty settlements.” John Tamihere, Maori Party co-leader, October 3, 2020. The Analysis The Maori Party wants the COVID-19 recovery to target Maori unemployment and help tackle the high imprisonment rate, which it says is costing New Zealand dearly. During Newshub Nation’s Powerbrokers minor parties debate, broadcast on October 3, Maori Party co-leader John Tamihere defended his party’s Whanau First policy aimed at ensuring 25 per cent of government projects are led by Maori. He said the cost of the policy was significantly less than the cost of dealing with the high levels of Maori imprisonment, which he said were a result of high levels of unemployment. “We’ve got 40,000 Maori between the ages of 14 to 20 not in employment, not in education, not in training,” Mr Tamihere said. “If you do not get them active as a progressive citizen they’ve got nowhere else to go but organised crime. “You then have to pay, and here’s the number, two years of Corrections. Two years of Corrections Vote is more than all the money paid out in all Treaty settlements.” Mr Tamihere added: “We cannot lock our way up out of this. We have to make our people positive, progressive citizens and we have to stop being embedded in welfarism.” AAP FactCheck analysed Mr Tamihere’s statement that two years’ Vote Corrections budget is greater than the total amount paid out in all Treaty of Waitangi settlements. NZ government budgets are divided into areas called ‘votes’. Vote Corrections is the budget allocated to the NZ Department of Corrections. Treaty of Waitangi settlements are the result of claims made by Maori against the Crown for breaching the articles of the 1840 Treaty before 1992. Treaty settlements are now the responsibility of the Crown entity, the Office for Maori Crown Relations – Te Arawhiti. In a written statement to AAP FactCheck, a spokesperson for Te Arawhiti said there had been 90 deeds of settlement negotiated and signed over the past 31 years, totalling $2.272 billion. The Vote Corrections budget documents show the total annual appropriation of Vote Corrections for 2020/21 was $2.429 billion (page 22). The estimated actual appropriation for 2019/20 was $2.211 billion.  The Maori Party has drawn comparisons between Corrections funding and Treaty of Waitangi pay-outs.  The Verdict AAP FactCheck found the statement that two years of the Department of Corrections’ budget is greater than the total amount paid out in all Treaty of Waitangi settlements to be true. In fact, just one year of Vote Corrections’ total appropriation is greater than all of the money paid out in treaty settlements to date. True – The checkable claim is true. * Updated: 08/10/202 16:51 AEDT: Removes references to billions in abstract and first par of the Analysis. Also corrects figures in the final par of Analysis to billions. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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Is Tasmania about to welcome back cruise ships?

The Statement A social media post claims passenger cruise ships are booked to return to Tasmania as early as December 2020. The Facebook post features a schedule of arrivals, beginning with the Coral Adventurer and Coral Discoverer at the end of the year. The caption states: “Exclusive: Cruise ships are booked to visit Tasmania over the next twelve months starting the 8th of December where the Coral Discoverer is scheduled for ten visits between December and March.” It also quotes TasPorts saying, “The COVID-19 situation continues to develop on a global level and the subsequent impact on the 2020-2021 cruise ship season and beyond is uncertain at this point. It is anticipated that bookings will change closer to the commencement of the 2020-2021 season”. At the time of writing, the post had been shared more than 110 times, attracting more than 400 reactions and 350 comments.  The Facebook post shows cruise ship arrivals in Tasmania from December.  The Analysis While the cruise ship arrivals included in the Facebook post were previously scheduled for Tasmanian ports, updated schedules show none of the passenger vessels are due to arrive until October 2021. International cruise ships have been banned from arriving in Australia, except in cases of emergency, since the federal government declared a biosecurity emergency on March 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, the ban and related measures under the Biosecurity Act were extended until December 17. Smaller vessels – those capable of carrying fewer than 100 passengers – and domestic cruises are still permitted to dock during the ban. The cruise ship schedule in the post shows two expected arrivals in Hobart this year: the Coral Adventurer on December 8 and the Coral Discoverer on December 31. Both are small vessels, carrying 120 passengers and 72 passengers respectively, that operate mainly in Australian waters, according to the Coral Expeditions website. The schedule also includes larger cruise ships, such as the 2,670-guest Sapphire Princess. None of these are listed to arrive until October 2021. However, a current TasPorts shipping schedule, retrieved by AAP FactCheck on October 9, shows no cruise ships of any sizes scheduled to arrive in Tasmania until October 2021 at Hobart and November 2021 at Burnie. An archived version of TasPorts’ Hobart shipping schedule from August 5, 2020, shows a schedule generally consistent with the dates in the Facebook post. It is unclear when the schedule was updated. A spokeswoman for TasPorts, the state body responsible for the management and maintenance of 11 Tasmanian ports, told AAP FactCheck in an email that forward shipping schedules were “subject to continual change” during the pandemic. “There remains a high level of uncertainty regarding the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the 2020-2021 domestic cruise ship season,” she said. “Cruise lines are providing rolling updates on cancellations of calls in line with ongoing developments associated with COVID-19. Cruise ship visits to Tasmania will not resume until government directions permit.” Border restrictions remain in place in Tasmania, with anyone except for “essential travellers” such as healthcare workers arriving from interstate required to quarantine for 14 days. The state plans to ease the rules on October 26.  International cruise ships have been banned from Australian ports since March.  The Verdict No cruise ships are due to arrive in Tasmania until October 2021, based on current listings, although TasPorts says schedules are subject to constant change. The schedule included in the post contains outdated information that has since been revised. Partly False – Content that has some factual inaccuracies. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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COVID-19 ‘false positives’ don’t make case figures meaningless

The Statement A social media post claims the high number of false-positive results from COVID-19 tests is rendering reported case numbers meaningless and the testing of asymptomatic patients useless. The post by an Australian Instagram user features a short video clip of Paul Weston, a British former candidate for UKIP and Pegida UK, in which he says: “And they seem to think that if 10,000 tests returned 110 positives, and the false positive error percentage was one per cent, then the said one per cent applies to the 110 positive results therefore reducing the number to 109, a matter of little importance in the overall scheme of things.” Mr Weston goes on to say, “But they’re wrong. (The false positive rate) applies to the 10,000 tested, and one per cent of 10,000 is 100, meaning the true positive number is only 10, not 109.” The Instagram post’s caption reads, “Herein lies the problem. Case numbers mean nothing. Testing people without symptoms means nothing. Time to quit the biggest hoax in human history. Thanks Paul Weston.” At the time of publication, the September 28 post had been viewed more than 2000 times and received more than 350 likes.  The post suggests the number of false positive results are inflating recorded COVID-19 figures.  The Analysis COVID-19 testing and its accuracy has been the subject of much debate in 2020. There have been testing issues in many countries, including the United States where the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) withdrew batches of testing kits earlier this year due to high rates of false positive tests. False-positive results – a test showing that a person is infected when they are not – could occur in rapid-testing regimes if antibodies on a test strip also recognise antigens of viruses other than COVID-19, the World Health Organization said in April. At the time, it recommended molecular (PCR tests), which require laboratory testing of samples but take longer to return results. In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration identifies PCR tests as the “gold standard” for COVID-19 detection, and state governments such as in Victoria deploy the molecular tests as the “test of choice”. False positive rates vary depending on how and where people are tested. False positives are more likely in an area where the prevalence of COVID-19 is low, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says. A Public Health England research document, published in June, on the UK’s COVID-19 RT-PCR (reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction) testing program states that Britain’s false positive rate is unknown. Meanwhile, a BBC report in September detailed the impact of false positives in order to address claims by commentators that they might be skewing COVID-19 figures. Dr Paul Birrell, a statistician at the Medical Research Council’s Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge told the BBC: “The false positive rate is not well understood and could potentially vary according to where and why the test is being taken. A figure of 0.5 per cent for the false positive rate is often assumed.” Despite difficulties with assessing false positive rates, the numbers claimed in the video and their implications for the efficacy of coronavirus results bear no relationship to current COVID-19 testing information, experts told AAP FactCheck. Professor Shaun Hendy from the University of Auckland’s, a physicist who led COVID-19 modelling efforts that informed the New Zealand government’s response to the pandemic, described the claims in the video included in the post as “highly misleading”. “Firstly, the false positive rate is thought to be well below one per cent if the tests are conducted properly (more like 0.1 per cent),” Prof Hendy told AAP FactCheck in an email. “Even then the argument made in the video would only apply if we were doing random testing of the population, which is not what is going on. “In New Zealand, we are testing close contacts of other cases, workers at MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) facilities, and people with symptoms. “These groups are much more likely to have the disease than a random sample of the population, so the number of true positives will likely exceed false positives.” University of Otago’s Professor David Murdoch, who specialises in epidemiology and infections, agreed, telling AAP FactCheck via email: “I’m not actually sure what a ‘false positive error percentage’ is, but we certainly wouldn’t use a test for which only 10 out of 110 positive results are truly positive.” The video snippet included in the post is taken from a longer video featured on Mr Weston’s YouTube channel. In the video, he claims the true false positive rate for COVID-19 tests in the UK is 2.3 per cent – an apparent reference to a figure included in the Public Health England document (page 2). The figure was drawn from a paper from three US academics, whose specialisations are in marine biology, plant biology and obstetrics/gynecology (page 10), who cited the false positives rates from PCR tests for other viruses, such as SARS, MERS and Zika (page 4). Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist from the University of Wollongong, said the testing regime for COVID-19 is not turning up the claimed number of false positive results – making it numerically impossible for a high percentage of tests to be returning incorrect readings. For example, NSW conducted 68,421 reported tests in the seven days ending at 8pm on October 4, resulting in one positive case. At a false positive rate of one per cent, assuming no follow-up testing, there would have been 684 positive tests. “As I explain in my blog, not only is the prevalence of COVID-19 (the proportion of people who actually have the disease) quite high in those tested (because they are a selected, symptomatic population), the specificity of PCR tests for COVID-19 is quite a bit higher than 99 per cent,” he told AAP FactCheck. Test specificity is the measure of a medical test’s ability to correctly generate a negative result for people without COVID-19 – in other words, its ability to generate an accurate negative result. “While no test is ever truly perfect, it is impossible for the specificity of the testing scheme in the UK to be lower than 99.92 per cent, and a reasonable estimate is somewhere around 99.995 per cent overall,” Mr Meyerowitz-Katz said. Regarding the post’s claims false positives are inflating COVID-19 figures, Mr Meyerowitz-Katz said false negatives are more likely than false positives in the populations currently being tested. “Ninety-nine per cent-plus of the positives in this population, given the true values, would be true positives, and in fact the main issue would be missing people who actually have the disease,” he said.  Laboratory workers work on PCR testing samples amid the COVID-19 outbreak.  The Verdict AAP FactCheck found the information in the Instagram post to be partly false. It is true there has been dispute about the efficacy of some COVID-19 tests, and there are limited studies that provide a clear figure for false positive rates. However, the suggestion in the video that only 10 per cent of positive results may be “true positives” is inaccurate and the associated claim in the post that reported case numbers are meaningless is false. Experts say while there is always chance of COVID-19 tests produce false positives, that outcome occurs in significantly less than one per cent of examples. Partly False – The content has some factual inaccuracies. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

Continue Reading COVID-19 ‘false positives’ don’t make case figures meaningless

Did Labour turn a big surplus into deficit before COVID-19 struck NZ?

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Did Labour turn a $6 billion surplus into a $1 billion deficit in two years prior to the emergence of COVID-19? The Statement “Can they (Labour) really get on top of the debt when they took, I think it was a $6 billion surplus to a billion-dollar deficit in only two years before COVID happened.” David Seymour, ACT Party leader, October 11, 2020. The Analysis ACT Party leader David Seymour has been buoyed by positive polling in the days leading up the New Zealand general election, claiming Labour’s handling of the economy pre-COVID-19 might trigger a swing to his party. Mr Seymour told TVNZ Q+A host Jack Tame on October 11 (video mark 3min 42sec) that voters are questioning whether Labour can rebuild the country given that before the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year the government oversaw the reversal of a big surplus in just two years. In response to a question about ACT’s path to power, Mr Seymour characterised voters as saying, “‘These are the guys that gave us KiwiBuild, can they really rebuild our country out of this? Can they really get on top of the debt when they took, I think it was a $6 billion surplus to a billion dollar deficit in only two years before COVID happened?'” AAP FactCheck analysed Mr Seymour’s claim that a $6 billion surplus had been reduced to a $1 billion deficit in the space of two years pre-COVID-19. The total Crown operating balance before gains and losses (OBEGAL) can be found in the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update reports from Treasury. According to the 2018 report, the government recorded a surplus of $5.5 billion in the financial year ending 30 June, $500 million less than Mr Seymour’s figure of $6 billion (page 22, table 2.1 – fiscal indicators). The following year’s surplus was $7.3 billion, according to the 2019 report (page 24, table 2.1 – fiscal indicators). In the same report, Treasury provides the projected deficit for 2020 as $0.9 billion, close to the $1 billion deficit highlighted by Mr Seymour. The forecast doesn’t take into account the unforeseen impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed the actual 2020 deficit out to $23.4 billion, according to unaudited Treasury figures from September. In explaining the pre-pandemic budget turnaround, Treasury said: “In the past two years the Government has run surpluses of $5.5 billion and $7.3 billion. The Treasury forecasts a small OBEGAL (operating balance before gains and losses) deficit in 2019/20. “This is owing to increased investment at recent Budgets and the temporary effects of the global headwinds … flowing through the New Zealand economy.”  ACT leader David Seymour has questioned whether a Labour-led government can rebuild NZ’s economy.  The Verdict While there are minor inaccuracies in the numbers he quoted, Mr Seymour’s comments were broadly in line with budget figures reported by New Zealand Treasury. The New Zealand government recorded an operating surplus, before gains and losses, of $5.5 billion in 2018. It was expected to record a deficit of $0.9 billion two years later, before the impact of COVID-19. Mostly True – The claim is mostly accurate but there is a minor error or problem. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

Continue Reading Did Labour turn a big surplus into deficit before COVID-19 struck NZ?

Does NZ spend less on pensions than most wealthy countries?

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Does superannuation cost New Zealand 4.4 per cent of GDP each year – and is this low by international standards? The Statement “The reality is we are way below the international cost of superannuation, we are about 4.4 per cent of GDP.” Winston Peters, New Zealand First leader and deputy prime minister, October 8, 2020. The Analysis New Zealand First leader and deputy prime minister Winston Peters has defended the cost of New Zealand’s superannuation scheme, claiming the government spends far less on retirement benefits than other countries. Mr Peters made the statement during the TVNZ Multi-party Debate on October 8, after being asked whether it was responsible for the government to keep current superannuation criteria in place in the post-COVID-19 economic climate. (Video mark 35min, 40secs). “The reality is we are way below the international cost of superannuation, we are about 4.4 per cent of GDP,” he said in response to the suggestion. AAP FactCheck examined Mr Peters’ statement that government spending on superannuation was 4.4 per cent of GDP, and its commitment was low by international standards. A review of superannuation by the government’s Commission for Financial Capability, released in January, said the New Zealand Super Fund cost 4.8 per cent of GDP which was “well under what some other OECD countries already spend on pensions” (page 5). The cost was predicted to rise to seven per cent of GDP by 2060. A Treasury update for the 2020 budget also put the government’s Superannuation Fund contribution at 4.8 per cent of GDP in the 2019/20 financial year ending June 30 (page 3). An OECD report, Pensions at a Glance 2019, compared government spending on retirement pensions in all OECD countries using data up to 2015 and found New Zealand’s spent well below the OECD average (Table 8.3, page 199, or here). The report put public spending on pensions at 4.9 per cent of GDP in 2015, almost half the OECD average of 8.0 per cent. Of the 36 countries analysed, only Australia, Canada, Chile, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Korea and Mexico had lower government contributions. More recent OECD figures, based on 2017 data or the latest otherwise available, showed similar results. A 2019 report by the University of Auckland’s Retirement Policy and Research Centre noted the OECD figures may overstate New Zealand’s relative government spending on pensions as the country’s state pension is fully taxable (page 6). This means a share of the amount the state spent on pensions would be returned as tax income. It also noted other countries with low government contributions, like Australia, paid more to subsidise private pension contributions through preferential tax treatments than New Zealand. University of Otago senior lecturer in economics Andrew Coleman, who has written multiple papers on New Zealand’s superannuation system, said it was true the government spent less on pensions than many other OECD countries, however this was partially because it had a younger population. “Mr Peters statement is true, but it’s not the whole truth,” Dr Coleman told AAP FactCheck. “It doesn’t illustrate the whole picture.” Based on figures from the OECD, 15.29 per cent of New Zealand’s population was aged over 65 in 2018, below the OECD average of 17.2 per cent. NZ also had radically different pension scheme compared to most OECD countries as retirees were generally paid a flat rate funded by general taxation, Mr Coleman said. Many other countries had mixed systems through which retirees were paid pensions based on their incomes. This meant, compared to other countries, New Zealand’s pension was relatively high for those on low incomes and relatively low for those on high incomes, he said.  New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says the country spends less on super than most international peers.  The Verdict AAP FactCheck found the statement that government spending on superannuation was 4.4 per cent of GDP and this figure was low by international standards to be mostly true. Treasury figures show government spending on superannuation is 4.8 per cent and a recent OECD report found this was well below the average across the developed world. However this can be partly explained by New Zealand’s relatively low proportion of people aged over 65. Mostly True – The claim is mostly accurate but there is a minor error or problem. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

Continue Reading Does NZ spend less on pensions than most wealthy countries?

Is Australia ‘outplaying’ NZ on debt and unemployment?

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Are debt and unemployment lower in New Zealand than Australia? The Statement “In my view, in New Zealand our unemployment rate is lower, our debt rate is already lower (than Australia’s).” Jacinda Ardern, Labour Party leader and NZ Prime Minister, October 6, 2020. The Analysis Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been defending the Labour-led government’s COVID-19 response, claiming New Zealand is doing better than Australia on key measures, including unemployment and debt. During an interview on The Mike Hosking Breakfast on NewstalkZB on October 6, the host asked Ms Ardern if Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had “outplayed” her because the Australian government had announced tax cuts as part of its pandemic budget response. (Audio mark 1min 58 secs) “No, no, and we’ve always said – you and I have had this debate often – we’ve always said we’re not at the end of this global pandemic yet,” Ms Ardern replied. “In my view, in New Zealand, our unemployment rate is lower, our debt rate is already lower.” AAP FactCheck examined Ms Ardern’s statement that New Zealand’s unemployment rate and government debt were lower than Australia’s. According to the latest figures from Stats NZ, New Zealand’s unemployment rate for the June quarter was 4.0 per cent, while the most recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) are for September, when the unemployment rate was 6.9 per cent. During the June quarter, Australia’s official unemployment rate rose from 6.2 per cent in April to 7.1 per cent in May and 7.4 per cent in June, giving an average rate of 6.9 per cent for the three-month period. Stats NZ noted the June quarter figures may under-represent unemployment as the country was in a lockdown for much of the period. This was because people were only classified as unemployed if they had been actively seeking and available to work in the last four weeks, which may not have been possible during lockdown. “In these cases, the respondent will have been classified as not in the labour force rather than unemployed,” Stats NZ said. Similarly, the Australian unemployment figures come with caveats attached due to COVID-19. The ABS calculated a secondary unemployment measure for the “effective unemployment rate”, which included those who had been stood down from their jobs, or had no or not enough work, but were still considered employed. In July, the unemployment rate including this group was 8.3 per cent, down from a peak of 11.8 per cent in April. In its pre-election update, Treasury predicted New Zealand’s official unemployment rate would peak at 7.8 per cent in the March quarter of 2022, while in Australia the unemployment rate was expected to reach a high of eight per cent in the December quarter of this year, according to budget papers. Government debt can be expressed in both gross and net terms. New Zealand’s gross debt is the government’s total borrowings, while net debt is the same figure less the value of relevant financial assets. However, NZ and Australia calculate net debt in different ways, making it difficult to make direct comparisons between nations. The NZ Treasury’s Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update (PREFU), released on September 16, shows the primary government debt measure, net core Crown debt, was 27.6 per cent of GDP for the year ending June 30, 2020, while gross debt was 33.6 per cent of GDP (Table 2.1, page 40). Net core Crown debt was forecast to increase to 55.3 per cent of GDP in 2024, while gross debt was forecast to rise to 43.9 per cent of GDP. The 2020 figures were unaudited due to a delay caused by COVID-19 and may be revised. The Australian government released its 2020-21 budget on October 6, the same day Ms Ardern was interviewed by Mr Hosking. Budget documents show net debt was lower than New Zealand’s, while its gross debt was slightly higher. Australia’s net debt was 24.8 per cent of GDP for the 2019-2020 financial year, which ended on June 30, while gross debt was 34.5 per cent of GDP (page 6). Australia’s net debt was forecast to rise to 43.8 per cent of GDP in 2024, while gross debt was forecast to reach 51.6 per cent of GDP. A spokesperson from Ms Ardern said the two countries’ net debt figures were not comparable as the New Zealand measure did not include assets in the government’s NZ Super Fund (see page 173), while the Australian figures included its equivalent, the Future Fund. Australia’s Parliamentary Budget office has explored whether Future Fund assets should be included in net debt calculations, suggesting other measures may offer more consistent and complete indicators of the government’s financial position. When the NZ Super Fund is included in calculations, New Zealand’s net debt levels are significantly lower than Australia’s. The PREFU shows NZ’s net debt was 12.1 per cent of GDP in 2019/20 when the fund is included, predicted to rise to to 36.8 per cent in 2024 (page 176). A New Zealand Treasury spokesperson told AAP FactCheck via email that its debt figures were not directly comparable to Australia’s, even with the Super Fund included, due to the use of different accounting frameworks. Treasury recommended using OECD data for comparison purposes. The OECD’s Economic Outlook report, released in June, included forecasts of government debt in member countries based on both the current COVID-19 outbreak being contained and a second outbreak in October/November, called “single-hit” and “double-hit” scenarios. Based on these forecasts, New Zealand would have general government gross debt of 48.7 per cent in 2020 after a single hit and 51.6 per cent of GDP in the case of a double hit (pages 276 and 277). Australia was forecast to have gross debt of 57.1 per cent of GDP after a single hit and 62.4 per cent of GDP from a double hit (pages 137 and 138). However, the OECD forecast Australia would have a lower unemployment rate than New Zealand in 2020 under both scenarios. More recent forecasts from the International Monetary Fund, released as part of its fiscal monitor on October 14, predicted Australia would have gross debt worth 60.4 per cent of GDP in 2020 and net debt of 39.4 per cent (full report, pages 75 and 76). Both figures were significantly higher than New Zealand’s forecast gross debt of 48 per cent of GDP and net debt of 21.3 per cent.  NZ PM Jacinda Ardern was asked if Scott Morrison had “outplayed” her on COVID-19 budget responses.  The Verdict AAP FactCheck found the statement that New Zealand’s unemployment rate and government debt are lower than Australia’s to be mostly true. Based on the most recent official figures, for the June quarter, New Zealand’s unemployment rate was 2.9 percentage points lower than Australia’s average figure over the same period. However figures for both countries are likely to significantly underestimate the true rates due to COVID-19-related measures, making a direct comparison difficult. The OECD forecasts New Zealand will have a higher unemployment rate over the full year. Government figures show New Zealand’s gross debt was lower than Australia’s in 2020 and its net debt was slightly higher, although this does not allow for differences in accounting. More directly comparable figures show New Zealand’s net debt is also significantly lower. Mostly True – The claim is mostly accurate but there is a minor error or problem. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

Continue Reading Is Australia ‘outplaying’ NZ on debt and unemployment?

Evidence on NZ’s carbon emissions far from clear

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Have New Zealand’s carbon emissions increased over the past three years under the Labour-led government?  The Statement “Actually our carbon emissions have gone up in the last three years, not down.” Judith Collins, National Party leader, September 30, 2020. The Analysis In 2017, the Labour Party campaigned on making climate change a priority if it were in government, but three years on the National Party says greenhouse emissions have actually increased in New Zealand. During Labour’s 2017 campaign launch, party leader Jacinda Ardern called climate change “my generation’s nuclear free moment”, citing NZ’s 33-year-old nuclear free policy which is often viewed as a defining moment in its history. However during the Newshub Leaders Debate on September 30, National Party leader Judith Collins said the government had made no progress on reducing carbon emissions. (Video mark 1hr 8min 45secs). “Actually our carbon emissions have gone up in the last three years, not down,” Ms Collins said. “So all the talk, all the fluffing around about emergencies, tell you what, actually it’s got worse not better under this particular leader.” AAP FactCheck examined Ms Collins’ statement that carbon emissions increased during the past three years under the Labour coalition government. Ms Collins’ office told AAP FactCheck her statement was based on net emissions figures from the Ministry for the Environment, released in December 2019, which included recorded greenhouse gas levels from 1990 to 2017 and projected greenhouse gas levels from 2018 to 2050. The figures show net greenhouse gas emissions were 56.895 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2-e) in 2017 and were projected to increase 17 per cent to 66.597Mt CO2-e in 2020 (see Data file, tables ‘Estimated historical’ and ‘Projected’). Net emissions account for forestry and land use changes that can remove, and add, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Gross emissions were expected to stay about the same, rising 0.09 per cent from 80.853Mt CO2-e in 2017 to 80.928Mt CO2-e in 2020. The historical figures show gross emissions have changed little since 2001, rising and falling between 78Mt CO2-e and 83Mt CO2-e, and were predicted to decline steadily from 2020. Recorded net emissions show rates have varied between 54Mt and 57Mt CO2-e since 2012, while the projections show net emissions were expected to increase until 2025 and then steadily decline. The figures were released as part of the Fourth Biennial Report, which outlines NZ’s progress on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. A summary of the report said net emissions were expected to increase in the short term as forestry planted in the late 1980s and early 1990s was harvested, but noted that projections were “inherently uncertain” (page 3). The figures were updated in April this year as part of a report, New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2018, which included recorded figures for 2018. These show gross emissions were expected to decline slightly overall, from 79.6Mt CO2-e in 2017, to 78.9 Mt CO2-e in 2020. Figures accompanying the report show recorded net emissions declined slightly between 2017 and 2018, from 56.93Mt CO2-e to 55.468Mt CO2-e. Gross emissions had also declined slightly, from 79.64Mt CO2-e to 78.862Mt CO2-e. A summary of the report notes (Page 1): “Gross emissions in 2018 were one per cent lower than 2017 levels and net emissions were three per cent lower. This is mainly due to a decline in emissions from manufacturing and construction, and public electricity and heat production; and a reduced rate of  deforestation and an increase in the production of harvested wood products.” The report did not include updated projections of net greenhouse emissions. However, a report released by the Ministry for the Environment in June, which reviewed the proposed settings of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), said emissions were expected to decline in 2020 due to COVID-19. The report found “emissions from many sectors will be substantially suppressed in the short-term” due to COVID-19 lockdowns and emissions could also be reduced in the medium to long term “if any major industrial facilities close and/or international tourism fails to rebound” (page 32). But it noted “there is substantial uncertainty at this stage about both the duration and severity of the COVID-19 impact” (page 32). The ministry produced three emissions scenarios to model the impact of COVID-19 between 2020 and 2025 and all show a significant decrease in emissions in 2020 (page 33). Massey University emeritus professor Ralph Sims told AAP FactCheck that “gross emissions have been fairly stable since 2012 and net emissions declined slightly from 2013 to 2018 but tend to fluctuate greatly with land use change that is hard to measure”. Prof Sims said projections were “anybody’s guess at the time and don’t mean much” and the impact of COVID-19 would make any earlier projections “null and void” due to the impact of lockdowns on transport and industry. He said recorded figures were also retrospectively changed as more information was gathered, making even recent figures somewhat uncertain. Victoria University of Wellington physical geography professor James Renwick, a leading researcher on climate change, said it was difficult to assess the record of the government over the past three years due to the lag in figures being reported. “It doesn’t have a lot of meaning to look at figures for the last three years,” Prof Renwick told AAP FactCheck in an email. “In terms of policy, a huge amount has happened because of the Zero Carbon Act and the emissions budgets being set in the Emissions Trading Scheme. We just haven’t seen that flow through to actual emissions yet.”  Experts told AAP FactCheck it’s difficult to assess the Labour led government”s record on emissions  The Verdict AAP FactCheck found it was not possible to categorically establish whether carbon emissions have increased over the past three years under the Labour-led government. Projections released in December 2019 show net greenhouse emissions were expected to increase slightly between 2017 and 2020, while gross emissions were expected to remain roughly the same. However, contrary to the projections, the most recent recorded figures, which cover 2018, show there was a slight decline in net greenhouse emissions in the first year of the Labour-led government. There are no figures recording actual emissions for 2019 or 2020 as yet. However, projections from the Ministry for the Environment indicate an expected decrease in 2020 due to COVID-19. Ambiguous – It is not possible to determine the veracity of the claim. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

Continue Reading Evidence on NZ’s carbon emissions far from clear

Is there more chance of an asteroid hitting Earth than dying from COVID-19?

The Statement A social media post claims the chance of an asteroid hitting Earth in November is higher than the chance of dying from COVID-19. The Facebook post from September 28 includes a meme saying: “NASA says there is a .042% chance of an asteroid hitting earth on 11/02/2020.” It goes on to add: “The chance of dying from Covid 19 is .026%. I’m going to trade my mask in for a helmet.” At the time of writing, the post has been viewed more than 18,000 times, attracting more than 200 shares and 250 reactions.  A Facebook post suggests an approaching asteroid is more of a threat than COVID-19.  The Analysis An asteroid, named 2018VP1, is predicted to approach Earth on November 2, 2020, with a 0.41 per cent chance it will enter the atmosphere, according to NASA. However, the US space agency says there is no chance it will strike the planet’s surface intact as it would disintegrate before then. NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) monitors near-Earth objects (NEO) in space and predicts close approaches to the planet, producing assessments of impact probabilities over the next century. The center’s earth impact monitor says the cumulative “impact probability” for asteroid 2018VP1, which has an estimated diameter of 2 metres, is 0.41 per cent – not 0.042 per cent as stated in the Facebook post. In a tweet, NASA Asteroid Watch described the object as “very small” and posing no threat to Earth. “It currently has a 0.41% chance of entering our planet’s atmosphere, but if it did, it would disintegrate due to its extremely small size,” the tweet said. Dr Paul Chodas, the director of CNEOS, told AAP FactCheck via email that the Facebook meme was incorrect on several counts and implied danger where there was none. He said the term “impact probability” as used by NASA meant “impact into the Earth’s atmosphere”. “The asteroid in question is extremely tiny which means that even if it does impact, it will disintegrate into dust as it streaks through the atmosphere, producing at most a little shower of small meteorites. There is no chance this asteroid would reach the surface intact.” The post claims the chance of dying from COVID-19 is 0.026 per cent, however it is unclear what this figure represents. Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist from the University of Wollongong, told AAP FactCheck in an email he had never heard a death rate claim of 0.026 per cent which he said was “extremely low and definitely wrong”. There are several ways that the risk of dying from COVID-19 can be assessed. Three key figures are the infection fatality rate (IFR), case fatality rate (CFR) and crude mortality rate (CMR). IFR measures the number of deaths as a proportion of all COVID-19 infections, including both diagnosed and undiagnosed cases, and can show how likely it is that someone who becomes infected with COVID-19 will die. It is also increasingly being used as an estimate of the overall mortality from COVID-19 by both policy-makers and the general public, according to a review in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases. Mr Meyerowitz-Katz told AAP FactCheck it was difficult to arrive at a single accurate figure for IFR, but it had been shown the rate increased exponentially with age – from less than one in 10,000 at age 20 to nearly one in three at 85. His meta-analysis of IFRs for COVID-19 produced the aggregate figure of 0.68 per cent. This represents the purported chance of anyone who becomes infected with COVID-10 dying as a result of the virus. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention use a “current best estimate” of IFR for planning purposes (table 1) ranging from 0.00003 for those aged under 20;  0.0002 for those aged between 20-49 years; 0.005 for those aged 50-69 years; and for 70+ year age bracket, 0.054. However, the above figures are ratios, and need to be multiplied by 100 to get a percentage –  making it 0.003 per cent for those aged under 20, to 5.4 per cent for people aged 70 and older. An analysis published in the British Medical Journal (page 1) in August predicted COVID-19 IFRs for 187 countries based on their demographics, likelihood of comorbidities existing and health system capacities. Its estimates ranged from 0.43 per cent for countries in western sub-Saharan Africa to 1.45 per cent in Eastern Europe. In contrast, CFR is the proportion of deaths among those confirmed as having the illness. The World Health Organization identifies several flaws with the use of CFR as a metric during a pandemic, noting that it is generally used at the end of an outbreak after all cases were resolved. For example, in counting only confirmed cases and confirmed deaths it does not capture those currently infected who may later die from the illness. It also does not account for anyone who died with an undiagnosed case. The Johns Hopkins University Mortality Analyses placed Australia’s CFR at 3.3 per cent on October 15, while in US the rate was 2.7 per cent and in the United Kingdom it was 6.6 per cent. CMR looks at the deaths as a percentage of the entire population, including those who haven’t contracted the virus. According to Boston University’s School of Public Health, there are limitations in using crude rates as they don’t take into account confounding factors such as age or location. It also can’t be used to accurately predict the chance of future deaths in an ongoing pandemic as the final tally of fatalities is unknown. In Australia, for example, the crude mortality rate for COVID-19 stood at 0.0035 per cent based on the country’s coronavirus death toll and estimated population on October 15. In the US it stood at 0.065 per cent, using figures from John Hopkins University and a census estimate.  NASA says an asteroid has a 0.41 per cent chance of hitting the Earth’s atmosphere on November 2.  The Verdict While it is true that there is a small chance an asteroid will reach the atmosphere on November 2, NASA says the small object would disintegrate before hitting Earth’s surface. It is unclear what the “chance of dying” from COVID-19 refers to, however infection fatality rates for the illness, the preferred method for calculating disease risk for many experts, are significantly higher than the figure quoted in the post. False – Content that has no basis in fact. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://factcheck.aap.com.au/

Continue Reading Is there more chance of an asteroid hitting Earth than dying from COVID-19?

COVID-19 disease comparison masks vital differences

The Statement An Instagram post questions the value of wearing a face mask to prevent COVID-19 by comparing the approach to that used for other diseases, such as influenza, tuberculosis and the common cold. The post features an image of a woman wearing a mask and asks, “If you’ve never worn a mask for any of the following: Common cold, influenza, diphtheria, whooping cough, pneumonia, tuberculosis, bronchitis, Then ask yourself, Why are you wearing one now?” At the time of publication, the post by an Instagram user who lists New Zealand as their location has been viewed more than 1000 times.  A post compares wearing a face mask to prevent COVID-19 with other diseases such as the common cold.  The Analysis The Instagram post is one of many on social media – see examples here, here and here – that dismiss the utlitity of mask-wearing to protect against COVID-19 by questioning why the face coverings aren’t also worn for the prevention of other infectious diseases. However, the diseases listed in the post have either effective vaccines or treatments available,or cause few deaths, unlike COVID-19. While testing and development for a vaccine is underway, the World Health Organization currently advises that there are no medicines that have been shown to either prevent or cure COVID-19. Of the diseases mentioned in the post, most have some form of medical treatment or vaccine available. There are multiple preventative vaccines for flu and whooping cough, and there are effective treatments for diphtheria and tuberculosis. Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist and a member of the New Zealand government’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group, noted that COVID-19 is a new, fast-spreading virus that is “highly infectious and relatively dangerous”. “Because (COVID-19) is a new virus, most people are not immune, so it has the potential to infect a large proportion of the world’s population resulting in a high burden of death and disease,” told told AAP FactCheck in an email. “Masks are one of the few tools we have available to limit transmission of this virus between people, hence their widespread use.” Patricia Priest, an associate professor of Epidemiology at the University of Otago and also a member of the COVID-19 advisory group, said mask-wearing can slow the spread of COVID-19 to prevent healthcare networks from being overwhelmed. “It’s because of the wider context – i.e. the number of cases (and associated impacts) that would result from this virus spreading widely in a fully susceptible population,” she told AAP FactCheck. “With influenza, for example, there is a vaccine which reduces the risk of infection in a large proportion of the population and so the impact of masks as a protection is arguably less important.” The Instagram post includes a reference to tuberculosis, which is one of the top-10 causes of death worldwide and in 2019 was the leading cause of death from an infectious agent. Tuberculosis is spread by a bacterium, not a virus, and is also curable. “Respiratory infections such as TB fortunately don’t cause fast-moving pandemics,” Prof Baker told AAP FactCheck. The CDC has also recommended that anyone suspected of having seasonal influenza wear a mask in healthcare settings until they can isolate to prevent spreading the infection. “Masks have also been widely used by the public in some societies for decades to protect themselves from infections, particularly at times where people are in crowded environments such as public transport,” Prof Baker said. “For less-serious respiratory infections, such as rhinoviruses that cause many common colds, mass masking would not usually be justified.” Even before COVID-19, mask-wearing was common in parts of Asia, notably in Japan and also China during the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak. The wearing of masks can even traced back as far as a 1910 Manchurian plague in China. Similar claims comparing mask-wearing responses for tuberculosis and COVID-19 have been debunked here, here and here.  An epidemiologist told AAP FactCheck that mask-wearing helps slow the spread of COVID-19.  The Verdict AAP FactCheck found the claims in the Instagram post to be false. Masks have been worn to prevent various respiratory conditions for years. Unlike tuberculosis and influenza, there are currently no proven cures or vaccines for COVID-19. Experts told AAP FactCheck that wearing a face mask provides individual protection against COVID-19 and helps to slow transmission in the community. False – The primary claims within the post are inaccurate. * AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

Continue Reading COVID-19 disease comparison masks vital differences