Wed, 12 Aug 2020

After excelling during pandemic, New Zealand ousts health minister

Voice of America
04 Jul 2020, 09:03 GMT+10

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - New Zealand Health Minister David Clark resigned Thursday after recent controversies surrounding his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Clark was criticized for breaches of strict quarantine rules for travelers returning from overseas and for ignoring lockdown measures by taking his family to the beach.

Border closures and strict lockdown measures have helped New Zealand contain the coronavirus, and officials have said there was no evidence of community transmission. But David Clark has paid the price for his mistakes. The former health minister had admitted breaching travel restrictions when New Zealanders were ordered to stay at home. He was demoted from his position as an associate finance minister after breaking rules to take his family to the beach. Clark called himself an "idiot" after the breach.

He was also criticized for failures to ensure that returning travelers were properly tested. In a high-profile case, two women were allowed to leave mandatory isolation early to visit a dying parent without being screened for the virus. They were later confirmed to have the disease.

Clark said it's time to move on.

"Serving as minister of health has been an absolute privilege particularly through these extraordinary last few months," he said. "It is no secret that health is a challenging portfolio. I have given it my all, but it has become increasingly clear to me that my continuation in the role is distracting from the government's overall response to COVID-19 and the global pandemic."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was essential those leading the response to the pandemic had the confidence of the people of New Zealand.

The opposition National Party had been calling for Clark's resignation for weeks. A spokesperson said his handling of border quarantine measures had "been utterly shambolic."

The government ended most disease-control restrictions last month. It had imposed some of the world's toughest lockdown measures. Its international borders remain closed.

New Zealand is a South Pacific nation of about 5 million people. More than 400,000 coronavirus tests have been done.

It has had 1,528 confirmed or probable coronavirus infections. There are 18 active cases in the country. So far, 22 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

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