Health Minister Chris Hipkins on the 'frustration' of figuring out latest COVID-19 outbreak

Health Minister Chris Hipkins has opened up about the "frustration" of trying to get to the bottom of the latest COVID-19 outbreak, likening it to a crime scene investigation (CSI). 

Hipkins, who holds three big ministerial portfolios - Health, Education and State Services - was asked on More FM Wairarapa on Wednesday morning how he is coping with being "so ridiculously busy" at the moment. 

"We're trying to solve a bit of a puzzle here and this latest COVID-19 outbreak is hugely puzzling, so it's quite frustrating because every time you feel like you might've nailed it you get something new, and that means that you're almost back to square one again," Hipkins said. 

It comes as a new COVID-19 case was discovered on Tuesday with no link to the south Auckland cluster that sparked the city's level 3 lockdown last week. The latest case is a maintenance worker at the Rydges Hotel managed isolation facility. 

"We still don't know how the latest COVID outbreak happened and that's frustrating. It's the thing that keeps you lying in bed awake at night - we've all become like CSI where we're trying to solve a problem," Hipkins added. 

"It's really an interesting time. It is really difficult because I think that by and large, the New Zealand public kind of get this - it's a virus. No one's done anything wrong when they catch a virus - it's a virus.

"Everybody is banding together and the level of support we've been getting for what we've been doing has been really strong and that's been heartening - it makes it easier. It is really hard but it certainly makes it easier knowing that people are behind us with what we're doing."

Hipkins, Labour's MP for Remutaka, was asked about how he deals with the stress of being a minister with multiple portfolios when he has two young children at home. 

The Prime Minister appointed Hipkins as Minister of Health early last month until the election following his predecessor David Clark stepping down from the role, so Hipkins is still relatively new to the job.  

"We've got two kids, we've got one who's two and one who's four, and so trying to spend a bit of quality time with them is the key priority outside of work-time," Hipkins, 41, said.   

"At the moment they're just getting into charging around outside, the oldest is just learning to ride a bike, so that's always good fun."

Hipkins talked about the reaction to the Government recently recommending the use of face masks, particularly in Auckland where community outbreak of COVID-19 was confirmed.  

He said he got a face mask from Hills Hats in Petone near his electorate in the Hutt Valley. 

"It's a reusable one. They're doing a booming trade, I think they might've even stopped taking orders at the moment because they've got so many orders they can't get through all of them," Hipkins said. 

"Funnily enough, I was worried about when we said we want everyone to wear masks. We got a bit of a national inventory of the amount of elastic that we have done. It turns out we're actually okay for elastic but there is a worldwide shortage. 

"There are people doing some interesting things with their face coverings and that's the spirit we want people to embrace at the moment."

Hipkins has been dealing with backlash against the Government after Newshub revealed that one week before the outbreak in Auckland, more than 60 percent of all border and hotel isolation workers in the city had never been tested. 

He has since made testing of border-facing staff mandatory and admitted in Parliament on Tuesday that testing has been too slow. 

"I want to acknowledge, at the outset, that testing of staff working at our border has been too slow," he said. "It has not met the very clear expectations of ministers, the decisions that Cabinet has made were not implemented in a timely or a robust manner, and that is disappointing and frustrating."