Sir Ashley? A knighthood could be next for Director-General of Health Dr Bloomfield

The good doctor - Dr Ashley Bloomfield - has signed off. 

The man who led New Zealand through the COVID-19 pandemic announced on Wednesday he'd be resigning from his role as Director-General of Health a year early - leaving in July. 

There is a sense of sadness. Newshub understands COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins even shed a tear during his daily 11:30am call with Dr Bloomfield. 

The two have just weathered one of the most intense storms a Government will face together. A contributing factor to Dr Bloomfield's resignation is he is just knackered. 

And the COVID-19 fatigue and burnout is not confined to him. His loyal deputy, Public Health Director Dr Caroline McElnay, is also off. She is fronting the 1pm press conference with Dr Bloomfield on Thursday and then she's gone. 

As for Dr Bloomfield's next steps, while there's nothing specific lined up yet, by the sounds you'd have to think he'd be in pretty high demand internationally. His reputation is not confined to New Zealand.

And while it's too late to sneak him into the Queen's Birthday Honours list, he'd be a pretty sure bet for a knighthood come the next opportunity. 

Dr Bloomfield was the fan favourite of the 1pm press conference. 

"Kia ora koutou," he always began with. 

On Wednesday, he signed on to one of his last shows, or as Hipkins called it, "The first episode of the final season of the Ash and Chippy show."

The Director-General of Health dropped his mic. 

"I felt it was the right time."

After two years steering New Zealand through a pandemic, one of our most familiar faces is off for a hard-earned break.

"You have saved thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lives," Hipkins told Dr Bloomfield, as they stood at the Beehive podium. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reflected on Dr Bloomfield's contribution. 

"He's been tireless, he's been dedicated, he's taken an enormous load and he's contributed to the success that New Zealand has had and made people safe through this pandemic."

The public was absolutely shell-shocked. 

"Did he resign? Oh my gosh, I'm shocked, I didn't know that," one woman in Wellington told Newshub. "I'm going to go and cry now."

"I feel like it's a bot of a loss," a man added. 

Dr Bloomfield was beamed into our living rooms daily, sometimes delivering good news - like when New Zealand had no new COVID-19 cases - but also terrible news, like the country's first COVID-19-linked death on the West Coast. 

It's all taken its toll. 

"What's next is an extended break," Dr Bloomfield said. 

Dr Bloomfield became a cult-like figure in New Zealand, and let's be frank, we got a bit weird about it. 

He was immortalised on hot sauce, hand towels, t-shirts and figurines, and songs were written.

"I don't want McSteamy, I don't want McDreamy, the only doctor that I want is McQuarantiney."

Dr Bloomfield's own music career was even launched over the carefree summer of 2020 when the COVID remix played at Rhythm and Vines. And he really got into the swing of things during the Vaxathon.

New Zealand fell in love, showering him in gifts. Someone even bought Dr Bloomfield some Bloomers. 

"The weirdest gift I've received? Well, um, I'm not wearing them today but early on I did get a very nice pair of tie-dyed thunderpants which came as a surprise," he said on Wednesday. 

And anyone who messed with him became public enemy number one - as David Clark, the former Health Minister (emphasis on former) learned the hard way.

Clark brutally threw Dr Bloomfield under the bus while standing right next to him, after the Government's quarantine testing botch-up.

The crushed face of his diligent Director-General ended his ministerial career.

Dr Bloomfield powered on. His podium pal is gutted to see him go.

"I'm sad and I'm also very happy for Ashley, if I could call him that publicly once," Hipkins said. "He thoroughly deserves a break."

The pair had become buddies, sharing many memorable moments, including the moment that launched a thousand memes: when Hipkins said it can be difficult to "spread" your legs during lockdown.

"Some moments are more memorable than others," Dr Bloomfield laughed. 

His more serious answer: "Hitting such high vaccination rates."

His regrets are few, other than failing to document his thoughts as he plunged the country into lockdown.

"Keeping a diary," he explained, "because it was such an intense and in a sense, unforgettable experience."

So what's next after the long nap? 

"I could say I'm a public servant through and through," Dr Bloomfield said. 

But being Prime Minister is off the table. He's not contemplating a run. 

The podium time is then coming to a close. No more Kia ora koutou. Instead, Ka kite Dr Bloomfield.