New Zealand’s health minister resigns after series of unpopular missteps

Sydney, Australia, July 2 (efe-epa).- New Zealand’s health minister on Thursday announced his resignation after a string of controversies over his handling of the coronavirus epidemic, including breaking mandatory lockdown measures.

“This morning I have formally tended my resignation as the minister of health, which has been accepted by the prime minister,” David Clark said at a press conference in Wellington.

He said it was becoming “increasingly clear to me that my continuation in the role is distracting” from the government’s COVID-19 response and the pandemic.

“I’ve always taken the view that the team must come first … so I’ve made the call that it’s best for me to stand aside,” Clark said.

Clark had already offered to resign in April after publicly acknowledging breaking the government’s highest level 4 lockdown regulations to take his family on a beach outing 20 kilometers from his home.

At that time, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rejected Clark’s resignation to avoid disruption to the fight against the epidemic, then at its most intense phase, but demoted him.

Clark later admitted another breach where he drove to a forest area to go mountain biking, and Ardern said under normal circumstances she would have sacked him.

A week ago, Clark faced public backlash when he blamed Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, who has become wildly popular with the public for his calm, rational expertise as the face of the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, for failures at the border. The move, made while Clark was talking to reporters in front of Bloomfield, was widely regarded as the minister throwing the health expert under the bus.

On Thursday, Ardern accepted Clark’s resignation.

“David has come to the conclusion his presence in the role is creating an unhelpful distraction from the government’s ongoing response to COVID-19 and wider health reforms,” Ardern said in a statement.

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

Clark is replaced by Education Minister and Leader of the House, Labour MP Chris Hipkins.

New Zealand, whose government has been applauded globally for its early and tough response to the epidemic, has 22 active COVID-19 cases, recording a total of 1,178 infections, including 22 deaths.

In his resignation, Clark said “now is the right time” as “we have no evidence of community transmission … we are now in a more stable footing.” All the latest cases have been identified in people arriving from overseas. EFE-EPA


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