Former Health Minister Dr David Clark believes Dr Ashley Bloomfield is an "exceptional public servant."
Newshub captured footage last week of the then-Health Minister stressing that responsibility for recent border botch-ups lay with the Director-General of Health as Dr Bloomfield stood silently behind him. That video has gone viral and many online were outraged with Dr Clark's deflection of blame. Dr Bloomfield had previously taken responsibility.
Dr Clark's behaviour was called "shameful" by a left-leaning commentator, while the video led to further intensified calls for him to resign. On Thursday, he did.
Speaking to media, Dr Clark was asked if last week's video was the final nail in the coffin, after he previously came under fire - and offered his resignation - over breaking lockdown rules.
"I have always been really clear that I have a deep respect for Ashley Bloomfield. We have a good, warm working relationship. I want to put on record again my thanks to him and all of the people in the Ministry of Health and across our wider public health service who have done an extraordinary job in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic," Dr Clark said.
He referred to Dr Bloomfield, whose role during the COVID-19 pandemic has been near-universally praised, as an "exceptional public servant". He said Dr Bloomfield had been pivotal in New Zealand's response.
While New Zealand does have COVID-19 cases, all are in quarantine and aren't the result of community transmission. Other countries, such as Australia and the United States, are seeing spikes in cases, but Aotearoa has so far avoided any new outbreaks.
Asked what he thought when he watched the video, Dr Clark said the "important thing is the whole context of my admiration for [Dr Bloomfield's] work" and noted that he had frequently praised the Director-General.
The video came about after two women were allowed out of lockdown earlier this month on a compassionate leave exemption. Neither were tested beforehand and both tested positive days later. The Prime Minister and Health Minister said they expected testing was happening prior to someone leaving. After this revelation, it also emerged that about 50 others were let out of a facility early without being tested.
Dr Bloomfield took responsibility for the gaps in testing, but Dr Clark wouldn't. The Health Minister later said he had overall ministerial responsibility for the health system and his focus was fixing the holes.
The Government has since introduced a raft of initiatives to tighten the measures, including ramping up personnel at the facilities and stressing the need for someone to test negative before leaving.
Dr Clark previously offered his resignation after driving to the beach with his family during our alert level 4 lockdown. The Prime Minister didn't accept, saying it would cause too much disruption during a pandemic. He was, however, stripped of his Associate Finance minister role and demoted in Cabinet rankings.
He said he believed New Zealand was on a stable footing and was confident now was the appropriate time to move on.
Prime Minister Ardern has replaced him with Chris Hipkins.
"It's essential our health leadership has the confidence of the New Zealand public. As David has said to me the needs of the team must come before him as an individual," she said.
"I am appointing Chris Hipkins as Health Minister until the election. Our response to COVID is on a stable footing and I have full confidence that Minister Hipkins will oversee the portfolio with the thoroughness and diligence he brings to his other areas of responsibility."
Dr Clark, the MP for Dunedin North, has been Health Minister since the Government came to power in 2017. He will stand for the seat at this year's election.