Coronavirus: Health Minister Dr David Clark has 'no excuses' for lockdown breach

The Health Minister says he has no excuse for breaching rules by driving 20km to a beach during the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.

Speaking to The AM Show minutes after releasing a statement admitting to the beach trip for which he offered his resignation, Dr David Clark apologised to Kiwis that he knows are making sacrifices at this difficult time.

"I have got this completely wrong. I have made a mistake... I have let New Zealanders down.

"Clearly I was not thinking straight and I got this wrong. There is no way around it. I got this plain wrong.

"I don't have any excuses".

New Zealand is currently under a nationwide lockdown, implemented in order to stem the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It requires Kiwis to stay indoors unless they are heading out for essential services or exercise. 

The rules, however, have created confusion among some, prompting the Director-General of Health to release a health notice last week confirming people can only "leave their residence for exercise if it is done in an 'outdoor place that can be readily accessed from their residence'". Officials have said driving a short distance is permitted.

The Health Minister said before the beach trip, his wife asked if the trip was appropriate, to which he made a judgement call and decided it was acceptable.

"It is my fault. I didn't recollect that even until last night when I was preparing for the select committee today and I thought carefully about was there anything else I had done that might have breached the rules and it was bloody obvious to me at that point. I felt like a complete dick."

He has received messages from New Zealanders furious at his lockdown violations and knows it will take time to rebuild trust.

"I understand why they are angry. I understand why they are ups... I got it wrong," Dr Clark said.

"I am making no excuses. It is unacceptable I broke the rules."

The Prime Minister was "pretty angry", Dr Clark said, when he alerted her to the "complete picture" of his actions under the Alert Level 4 lockdown.

Dr Clark, who is basing himself at home in Dunedin, has been stripped of his Associate Finance Minister role by the Prime Minister and demoted in the Cabinet rankings. However, Jacinda Ardern has allowed him to stay on as Health Minister, noting that sacking him would create instability during what is an unprecedented health crisis.

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

Dr Clark said as well as his beach trip, he drove his family to a walking track about 2km away from their home and has gone for several runs locally. He says that is within the rules.

He came under fire last week after his van was pictured at a Dunedin mountain biking tracking more than 2km from his home. He confirmed he drove to the park for a ride on the 'The Big Easy' trail. Dr Clark apologised to the Prime Minister for that, but did not offer his resignation.

Asked on Tuesday if he did anything other than exercise, Dr Clark said: "I absolutely am. As you expect, I am working some fairly long hours. I am clear I made an error of judgement."

He said he hadn't thought yet about whether he would stand down from Parliament at the September election.

"I have been told to get on with my job and that is what I will be doing."