World

Lockdown blunder costs NZ Health Minister

By AAP Newswire

Stunning stupidity from New Zealand's Health Minister has overshadowed a bright result in the country's coronavirus case numbers.

On Tuesday, the number of new recovered patients (65) overshadowed the new cases (54) for the first time since the arrival of the pandemic on New Zealand's shores.

However, that positive note was left in the dust by David Clark's forgetfulness and thoughtlessness to twice break the rules of the country's lockdown.

Dr Clark labelled himself an "idiot" and offered his resignation to the prime minister, but Jacinda Ardern has kept him in the job as it would be too hard to replace him during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Under normal conditions I would sack the Minister of Health. What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses," Ms Ardern said.

"But right now, my priority is our collective fight against COVID-19. We cannot afford massive disruption in the health sector or to our response. For that reason, and that reason alone, Dr Clark will maintain his role."

Her position leaves Dr Clark in the political wilderness, without credibility, and likely to be fired in the run up to September's election should New Zealand escape the worst of the virus.

Dr Clark was caught mountain-biking near his Dunedin home after leaving his van with his own face on it in the car park.

A day before he was due to face a parliamentary committee, he said he also remembered a second breach of the lockdown's rules - taking his family to a beach 20 kilometres from home on the previous weekend.

"At a time when we are asking New Zealanders to make historic sacrifices I've let the team down," he said.

"I've been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me. I've apologised to the prime minister for my lack of judgement and offered her my resignation."

Opposition leader Simon Bridges called Dr Clark's position "terminal" but fell short of asking for his resignation.

"The prime minister is caught between a rock and a hard place," he said.

"You'd have to say post-lockdown ... when she doesn't have confidence in him, his position isn't tenable."

Ms Ardern, who has ruled out taking on the health ministry herself, stripped Dr Clark of his Associate Finance Minister role and demoted him to position 20 in Cabinet under New Zealand's ranking system.

The 54 new cases announced on Tuesday is not only the first time recoveries have outnumbered fresh cases, it's also the smallest daily increase in a fortnight.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said he hoped that the reduction of new cases linked to overseas travel could pave the way for a flattening of New Zealand's curve.

"We will expect the number of new cases to continue to stay level and course we're looking for that decline," he said.

The 54 new cases takes the total number of Kiwi cases to 1160, with 12 being treated in hospital and four in intensive care units.

Just one person has died from the disease in New Zealand.