Coronavirus: Winston Peters hesitant to comment on Health Minister's park bike ride

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters was hesitant to comment when asked if it was appropriate that the Health Minister drove to a bike park for exercise amid the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

An image has been obtained by Stuff showing a van at Dunedin's Signal Hill which displays Health Minister and Dunedin North MP Dr David Clark's face on its side. Clark has confirmed that he drove to the park, reportedly 2.3km from his home, for a bike ride on 'The Big Easy' trail.

That's despite New Zealand currently being in lockdown, with people instructed not to leave their homes, businesses closed and schools shut due to COVID-19. Officials, including the Prime Minister, have stressed that people can go outside to exercise but they should remain local and not partake in dangerous activities that may lead to injury.

Asked for his opinion on Dr Clark's trip to the park on Friday, Peters was hesitant to comment.

"Ahh... Well... [chuckles]... how would you say it. I don't want to make a comment frankly," he told The AM Show.

"I kinda think some people need the exercise or otherwise they are going to go stir crazy and [Dr Clark] has been in a very, very extraordinarily difficult portfolio. He is a hard-working guy.

"Probably thought he can go down and have a quiet ride and [go] back as fast as he could. It is not the ride, it is the fact that if anything goes wrong in the ride, others will have to come and help him. That is why the lockdown process is being asked."

Peters told The AM Show that the rules were in place for a good reason.

"I see people out there still surfing and doing this and still coming to the beach, and they have been told by police 'don't do that for the time being'.

"You go through a gate and touch the rail, the surface now, if you are a carrier, can be on that surface, it will be there for possibly 72 hours for the next person who goes through.

"I know it sounds namby-pamby and very, very difficult, but in the end, we are trying to save not just ourselves, but our family and someone else."

In a statement Dr Clark provided to media, he said he went for the ride between video conference meetings on Thursday, his "only chance to get out for some exercise in daylight hours".

He said as the Health Minister he tries to model good health behaviour and doesn't want to give anyone the perception he took the matters lightly.

"This is a reminder to me to think carefully about how best to fit some exercise into my new-normal routine," Dr Clark said.

The Health Minister said the track wasn't challenging and is widely used by families.

"I know that now is not the time for people to be engaging in higher-risk exercise activities."

Dr Clark also told Newshub: "While cycling on gravel tracks is one of my usual forms of exercise these are not usual times".

"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."

There has been confusion by what is meant by 'local' and if people can use their cars to drive to a park for exercise.

According to the COVID-19 Government website, transport via private vehicles is allowed if "you're accessing essential services or if you're an essential worker travelling to, from, or as part of your essential work". However, the likes of the Police Commissioner and Civil Defence have previously said driving a short distance for exercise is permitted. 

All of Government Controller John Ombler said in the weekend: "By all means, go for a short walk or run in your neighbourhood, but don't go to playgrounds or drive to a beach or park outside your neighbourhood. Stay local. 

"Avoid going distances - tramping, fishing, hunting, surfing, swimming, and other activities at a distance from home. Emergency services are needed to respond to the COVID-19 challenge. Please help them by reducing the chance of any other issues."