Dr Ashley Bloomfield on his knighthood and unexpected fame


After an extraordinary four years as director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield has been made a knight for services to public health.

Sir Ashley was pushed into the limelight heading up the country's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He became a familiar face, as he fronted up day after day behind one of the podiums in the Beehive theatrette.

"Of course the health sector was a big part of the response to the terrorist attacks in the mosques down in Christchurch and we'd just had Whakaari /White Island in December 2018, and in between those two we'd had the measles outbreak in Auckland, so we'd already had our share of big events," Sir Ashley told RNZ.

"But none of us anticipated a pandemic was just around the corner."

Sir Ashley said the growth of his public profile throughout the pandemic was not something he anticipated.

"I just kept being myself and doing my job as best I could, and I think it reflects more that it was just such an extraordinary time and the fact that myself as a public servant ended up so much in the public profile, which is very unusual, was really just a feature of the extraordinariness of a one-in-100-year pandemic."

Sir Ashley said he was extremely surprised to be honoured with a knighthood, but his efforts would have been for naught if it was not for the extraordinary work of a huge number of people throughout the pandemic.

He said the work he was most proud of was the wide coverage of the Covid-19 vaccination programme and helping to implement an elimination approach during the pandemic, something few other countries managed to do.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

More than 90 percent of New Zealanders were fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Sir Ashley said while the job had its tough parts, he was thankful to work in a country with a strong public service, alongside people who wanted to do the right thing to look after each other.

He stepped down from the role last July.

Sir Ashley is about to take on a new job as a professor working in the School of Population Health at Auckland University, chairing a new Public Policy Impact unit.

He said he was "really excited" to be doing something "quite different" from the role he had in public health.

The University of Auckland was where he did his medical and public health degrees.

Deputy honoured

Dr Caroline McElnay who also helped lead New Zealand's public health response to the pandemic has been appointed a Companion of the Queen's Service Order.

Dr Caroline McElnay
Dr Caroline McElnay

She was director of Public Health with the Ministry of Health from 2017 until April 2022.

Dr McElnay was also a regular presence alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Sir Ashley Bloomfield at briefings on the pandemic.

She gave technical advice during the vaccination programme, monitored global developments on the virus, and worked to assess risks with Australian counterparts as a member of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

She collaborated on a paper analysing the impact of the country's initial response to Covid-19, which resulted in the team being awarded the Liley Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand.