New Zealand health minister resigns following series of gaffes

New Zealand health minister resigns following series of gaffes
NZ Health Minister David Clark

New Zealand’s health minister has resigned after making a series of personal blunders during the coronavirus pandemic.

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

Mr Clark said he had put all his energy into the job as he announced his resignation.

He said: “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.”

While New Zealand’s health response has been praised around the world after it managed to eliminate community transmission of the virus, Mr Clark has been widely ridiculed.

His latest gaffe came last week when he appeared to place the blame for allowing some returning travelers to leave quarantine without being tested with the director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield.

Mr Bloomfield, who was standing behind Mr Clark while he spoke, appeared stung by the criticism as he frowned and looked away in a video captured by local outlet Newshub and viewed tens of thousands of times.

I've been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me

David Clark

Mr Bloomfield has been the country’s trusted medical expert and public face of the virus response — similar to doctor Anthony Fauci in the US.

Mr Clark was stripped of some of his responsibilities in April after defying the country’s strict lockdown measures.

He drove 12 miles to the beach to take a walk with his family while the government was asking people to make historic sacrifices by staying at home.

He said at the time: “I’ve been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me.”

New Zealand Health Minister David Clark, centre, previously had the support of Jacinda Ardern as the country could not afford to change his role earlier in the pandemic (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald/AP)

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said then that she would normally have fired him but the country could not afford massive disruption to the health sector as it fought Covid-19.

However, on Thursday she accepted his resignation, saying in a statement it was “essential our health leadership has the confidence of the New Zealand public”.

She added: “As David has said to me, the needs of the team must come before him as an individual.”

Mr Clark said on Thursday he intends to remain in parliament as a backbencher.

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