Coronavirus: Health Minister David Clark labelled 'as useful as a teddy bear in a window'

Health Minister David Clark's handling - or lack of it - of the coronavirus crisis has been ripped apart by political commentators on both sides of the political divide.

Dr Clark has reportedly been sticking to his bubble in Dunedin, away from the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health in Wellington, and last week he made headlines after driving to a mountain-biking track, appearing to flout his ministry's own rules about non-essential travel and avoiding dangerous activities. 

"Even though I deliberately opted for an easy, local track, on reflection I realise I should have chosen a better option such as walking, running or cycling on the flat," he said after a local photographed his van - complete with his face painted on the side - at a track a few kilometres from his house.

Trish Sherson, PR expert and former ACT Party secretary, told The AM Show Dr Clark has been "absolutely hopeless" lately, calling his apology "absolute nonsense" and "absolute dribble".

"David Clark has been about as useful as a teddy bear in a window through this," she said, referring to a recent trend of putting teddy bears in windows for passing children to spot. 

"Think back to when Tony Ryall was health minister through... swine flu, Ryall fronted every day twice a day... David Clark has been absolutely missing in action, even when he was in Wellington."

Dr Clark's office said he was working from home, "as is almost the entire Cabinet".

"Only the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance (who is a Wellington MP, of course) are currently working in the Beehive," they told Newshub in an email.

David Clark.
David Clark. Photo credit: Getty

The Government has been urging people to stay home and limit non-essential travel, to stop the spread of the deadly virus. Scientists have recently uncovered evidence the disease can be asymptomatic in a large number of infected people, who can spread it to others without even realising they're sick. 

"I think David Clark should absolutely step down. He's not doing anything anyway," Sherson added. 

Left-leaning commentator Chris Trotter said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield had performed "pretty well", as had Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

"When you look around for other politicians and senior civil servants, they're pretty thin on the ground. I would have thought frankly in a time such as this, the Health Minister would have been absolutely front and centre."

He said Dr Clark needs to "decide what he wants to be - a Cabinet minister, Health Minister or a private citizen".

"I'm not saying he should resign because that would mean someone else being brought up to speed at a time when we really don't have time... He needs to get into the game a bit."

Sherson added Minister of Civil Defence Kris Faafoi, Minister of Civil Defence had also done a fine job, and Trotter had praise for National leader Simon Bridges.

"I think he has stepped up to the plate admirably. I think the economic response committee in Parliament is doing a wonderful job. It's a wonderful innovation in terms of our democracy."

So far only one Kiwi has died of a confirmed COVID-19 infection. Just over 1000 have been confirmed infected, but the rate of increase has been steady, rather than exponential, as it has been in many places overseas.