Besieged NZ health minister resigns

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has accepted the resignation of Health Minister David Clark.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has accepted the resignation of Health Minister David Clark.

New Zealand's hapless health minister has resigned after a series of blunders during the COVID-19 lockdown and a bungled response to the global pandemic.

David Clark announced his resignation on Thursday, saying his presence in cabinet was a "distraction" for the government.

The 47-year-old infuriated Kiwis after being caught bike-riding, going for a beach walk and moving house during New Zealand's strict lockdown.

Dr Clark offered to resign in April but was kept on by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said she didn't want disruption during the pandemic.

Since then, Dr Clark has overseen a string of problems at New Zealand's border controls, the country's first line of defence against the virus since its elimination in the community.

A frank conversation between the pair last week sealed Dr Clark's fate, leading to a second resignation - one Ms Ardern accepted.

"New Zealand's COVID response is simply too important ... so I've made the call that it is best for me to stand aside," he said.

"It's no secret health is a challenging portfolio. I have given it my all."

A second wave of hysteria grew over Dr Clark's position last month after it was revealed health officials were not testing international arrivals in line with expected protocols.

For this, Dr Clark criticised his health authorities, including the revered Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.

The tipping point may have been devastating footage of Dr Clark attacking Dr Bloomfield, all while NZ's top doctor stood behind him, looking crestfallen and humiliated.

Ms Ardern denied leaning on Dr Clark to go, repeatedly referring to his presence as a distraction; suggesting he was unpopular.

"Last week I had discussions with Dr Clark. We talked about how important the COVID response was and the need for that to be the primary focus as a government," she said.

"He reached the conclusion his ongoing presence in the health role was causing too much distraction.

"It was his view that he needed to go."

Ms Ardern has given health to Education Minister Chris Hipkins until the election, but has promised to separate the two massive portfolios should the government be returned.

On Thursday, the health department announced two new COVID-19 cases of returning Kiwis in managed isolation facilities.

New Zealand has just 16 active cases of the disease, and has suffered just 22 deaths through the pandemic.

Outside of the border regime, New Zealand remains COVID-free, with no restrictions on gatherings or behaviour.

Australian Associated Press