Coronavirus: Gerry Brownlee denies COVID-19 questions make him a conspiracy theorist

National Party deputy leader Gerry Brownlee has denied suggesting the Government knew about the new local cases of COVID-19 well before they made it public on Tuesday night.

Earlier this week, Brownlee said it was "very puzzling" to hear health officials talk about mask wearing and the potential of new outbreaks, as New Zealand marked 100 days without any confirmed cases of local transmission of the virus, which has killed 750,000 people around the world.

On Wednesday, after four new cases were discovered, he said it was "interesting" to see Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield undergo a COVID-19 test despite no evidence he was at particular risk of infection, and the Prime Minister visit a mask factory. 

"All very interesting things to have happened a matter of hours before there was a notification of the largest residential part of New Zealand going into a lockdown," Brownlee said.

Jacinda Ardern was quick to quash suggestions the Government had been hiding anything, calling it "nonsense". 

Brownlee told The AM Show on Thursday he never meant to imply that at all. 

"I never, ever set out to suggest there was any kind of conspiracy at all. That word has been used by journalists and probably from your news outlet. I was answering a question to one of your journalists about some of the questions we have been asking in the House over the last two weeks of Parliament... 

"All I'm saying is that there was a heightened activity. Clearly there was an increasing worry about the prospect of an outbreak. We've now got the outbreak, and that's what we've got to focus on defeating."

According to the Government's timeline, DHB officials were notified of the positive test at 2:30pm on Tuesday, Dr Bloomfield at 2:40pm and the Prime Minister at 4pm. The Opposition was informed at 8pm and the public at 9:15pm. 

"The idea that we would keep information back from the public - when that is critical to us being able to look after their health, financial wellbeing and jobs - is just nonsense," Ardern said on Wednesday, refusing to discuss it further. 

Ardern, Brownlee and Collins.
Ardern, Brownlee and Collins. Photo credit: Getty

Brownlee said there was no longer any point in "trying to dissect" the timeline. The AM Show host Duncan Garner asked him directly if he believed Ardern had deliberately hidden crucial information.

"No, I don't think that and I've never suggested that. I simply asked the question, what was it that was causing the heightened concern we saw in the last couple of weeks?'

Second waves of the virus have broken out all over the world in recent weeks, most notably in Australia - which was once hailed as having similar success in controlling the virus as New Zealand, without having to lock down as hard. New outbreaks have also taken place in countries which did even better than New Zealand, such as Vietnam. 

Despite denying accusations of being a conspiracy theorist, Brownlee didn't back down on calling the timing of the outbreak "interesting".

"Clearly there was a higher degree of interest to make sure the COVID-19 prevention messages were out there, and then the talk about masks et cetera. If there was some indication that well, you know, it's looking a bit difficult or some other such, then it would have been good to know. But I'm certainly not accusing the Government of hiding anything, and never have."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson told RNZ on Thursday he was "really annoyed" at Brownlee and National leader Judith Collins' recent comments.

"Brownlee and Judith Collins are effectively accusing Ashley Bloomfield of being involved in some kind of collusion or cover-up with the Government. He's an independent public servant who actually can't fight back so it's complete nonsense and also incredibly irresponsible.

"We are all here committed to keeping New Zealanders safe and well - why on Earth would we do that?"