Gerry Brownlee backtracks on comments as Government ministers hit out at spread of 'misinformation'

National Party deputy leader Gerry Brownlee has backtracked on his comments about the Government's COVID-19 response as ministers hit out at the spread of "misinformation". 

The National Party has been questioning Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield's COVID-19-related photo opportunities this week.

On Wednesday Brownlee questioned the timing of the Prime Minister's visit to a mask factory and the Director-General of Health's COVID-19 test on Monday, suggesting it was an "interesting series of facts".

In response, Government ministers have blasted Brownlee's comments. 

"I do think that was irresponsible and the claims are just ridiculous," Finance Minister Grant Robertson told Newshub on Thursday. 

Deputy Prime Minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters said he was "astonished". 

"I was absolutely astonished that he would deviate with that sort of speculation and rumour-mongering," he said. 

Green Party co-leader and Government minister James Shaw said the comments were "worrying". 

"I think it's worrying that a senior politician from one of our big mainstream parties has a propensity to spread misinformation and confusion."

After the comments backfired magnificently, Brownlee is now claiming he was misrepresented.

"I don't think there's anything conspiratorial in that at all," he told Newshub. "It was in fact highlighting some very important public health messages that the Government was trying to get out."

A group of more than 50 leading scientists and health professionals have sent a letter to all politicians urging them to put politics aside and resist the temptation to scaremonger or point score. 

Conspiracy theories have spread that the Government has known about the latest community transmission outbreak longer that it says it did. 

The Public Party, which calls COVID-19 a "plandemic", was pushing the cover-up conspiracy at a march in Whangarei on Thursday, with founder Billy Te Kahika claiming the Government has known about the outbreak for weeks. 

"They've made out that it's just something that happened in the last two days, they've known about it for weeks," he told people at the march. 

Te Kahika's views have been legitimised by sitting MP for Botany Jami-Lee Ross who formed an alliance with the Public Party. 

The Prime Minister had a message for conspiracy theorists on Thursday: "If you're someone who views politicians suspiciously, then please by all means listen to the independent doctors, scientists - those who are our source of advice that we lean on."

Dr Bloomfield said on Thursday there is a chance COVID-19 may have been in the community for several weeks before it was picked up and an expert says cases in the community could balloon to as many as 100. 

In COVID-19 times, mass gatherings have become a risky business, turbo-charging or super-spreading the coronavirus. 

Auckland University Professor Shaun Hendy, who has provided COVID-19 modelling to the Government, said the prospect of a super-spreading event is concerning. 

"That's the sort of event that could really kick off a large outbreak in Auckland so we'd be quite concerned if we discovered there has been a super spreading event that led to the outbreak at the cold store." 

Dr Bloomfield said on Thursday there is no evidence yet of any super-spreading event.

The Prime Minister confirmed it will get worse before it gets better, "Once you identify a cluster it grows before it slows."

A hundred cases of COVID-19 could be out there, according to Prof Hendy's modelling, and Dr Bloomfield says it's a possibility. 

"Between 25 and 100 I think by Shaun Hendy's modelling - I don't disagree with him." 

Because although it was only discovered on Tuesday, the virus may have been silently among us much longer.

"It could have been several weeks ago that that the very first case was in the community," Dr Bloomfield said.