New Zealand’s health minister resigns after virus blunders

New Zealand’s health minister resigns after virus blunders

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s health minister resigned Thursday following a series of personal blunders during the coronavirus pandemic.

David Clark had earlier described himself as an “idiot” for breaking the nation’s lockdown measures and then last week appeared to blame a beloved health official for border lapses, generating an angry response from the public.

Announcing his resignation, Clark said he’d put all his energy into the job.

“But it has become increasingly clear to me that my continuation in the role is distracting from the government’s overall response to COVID-19,” he said.

Clark said he intended to remain in the parliament as a lower-ranking lawmaker.

New Zealand’s health response has been praised around the world after the country managed to eliminate community transmission of the virus. But Clark himself has been widely ridiculed.

His latest gaffe came last week when he appeared to place the blame for allowing some returning travellers to leave quarantine without being tested with his top official, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.

Bloomfield, who was standing behind Clark while he spoke, appeared stung by the criticism as he frowned and looked away in a video captured by Newshub and viewed tens of thousands of times. Bloomfield has been the nation’s trusted medical expert and public face of the virus response — similar to Dr. Anthony Fauci in the United States.

Many people were angered by Clark’s words, and a Twitter campaign dubbed “Blooms for Bloomfield” was launched to buy flowers for Bloomfield. As hundreds of dollars poured in, Bloomfield asked that the money be donated instead to charities, which it was.

It was just the latest in a series of missteps by Clark.

In April, he was stripped of some of his responsibilities after defying the country’s strict lockdown measures. He drove 19 kilometres (12 miles) to the beach to take a walk with his family as the government was asking people to make historic sacrifices by staying at home.

“I’ve been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me,” Clark said at the time. He also earlier acknowledged driving to a park near his home to go mountain biking, also in defiance of the rules.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at the time she normally would have fired Clark but that the country couldn’t afford massive disruption in its health sector while it was fighting the virus. Instead, she stripped Clark of his role as associate finance minister and demoted him to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings.

But on Thursday, Ardern said she was ready to accept Clark’s resignation.

“It’s essential our health leadership has the confidence of the New Zealand public,” Ardern said in a statement. “As David has said to me, the needs of the team must come before him as an individual.”

Ardern appointed Education Minister Chris Hipkins to temporarily take over the role.

The move comes less than three months before New Zealanders vote in a general election. Ardern, who leads the liberal Labour Party, saw her popularity soar during the early stages of the virus response, although recent opinion polls indicate the conservative National Party, under new leader Todd Muller, is making inroads into Labour’s lead.

Nick Perry, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Alisha Bryan holds a handful of poppy sticks at the poppy laying ceremony on Oct. 28. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Remembrance Day will look a little different this year for Lacombe

The Lacombe Legion is taking COVID-19 precautions for people who want to pay their respects.

Chad Carlson (left) Jarita Carlson and their two children Milo Carlson (left) and Lennon Carlson are dressing up as Ghostbusters for Halloween. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Lacombe family passionate about Halloween and giving back to their community

COVID-19 has changed how the Carlson’s will celebrate Halloween this year

The Lacombe Legion volunteers laid poppies beside the graves of veterans on Oct. 28. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Lacombe Legion volunteers lay poppies for fallen veterans

Twenty volunteers showed up on Wednesday to pay their respects and help out

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo by The Associated Press)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Most Read