Following director general of health Ashley Bloomfield’s announcement earlier today that he’s resigning, the country’s two top public health officials also announced they are leaving. This week.
While Caroline McElnay and Niki Stefanogiannis aren’t as well known as Bloomfield, they’ve been instrumental in the country’s Covid-19 response. McElnay has stood in for Bloomfield during press conferences on a number of occasions. In many jurisdictions around the world, as the country’s top public health official she would have been the face of the response to the pandemic, not the head of the health department.
The vacancies are happening as the government has quickly relaxed health rules, despite an ongoing omicron outbreak and fears of a harsh winter flu season.
Bloomfield said he was planning to take “an extended break” following his departure in July.
“I’ve been thinking for a while about what’s a good time to step down,” he said at today’s press conference. “It seems we’re at a good point in terms of the pandemic, the response is shifting. I’m also confident that the system is in good hands with the changes that are afoot.”
Bloomfield was referencing the major shakeup of the health system coming into force on July 1, when the country’s district health boards will be scrapped in favour of a new national health service and Māori Health Authority.
2022 has got off to a pretty good start entertainment-wise. We’ve had Apple TV’s extraordinary Severance, the fourth season of Amazon’s the Marvellous Mrs Maisel, a bunch of business-focused dramas like The Dropout, and the bizarre comedy of Rhys Darby in Our Flag Means Death.
But April is on track to bring us the best. Once Severance wrap up this week (I am both incredibly excited and nervous), we can look forward to the return of two of TV’s most acclaimed: dark comedy Barry, starring Bill Hader, and the final season of the Breaking Bad prequel series Better Call Saul.
Both shows have been off the air for what feels like an eternity, owing in part to the pandemic but in the case of the latter there was also actor Bob Odenkirk’s health issues (which he talks about in this superb New York Times profile).
Better Call Saul is back in less than two weeks on April 18, while Barry returns on April 24. And if you haven’t caught up, both are available to stream on Neon.
The government has announced further sanctions against Russia, this time targeting trade.
35% tariffs will be applied to all imports from Russia, and the government will also extend the existing export prohibitions to industrial products closely connected to strategic Russian industries.
This is, the foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said, New Zealand’s most significant economic response to the Russian invasion to date. “The images and reports emerging of atrocities committed against civilians in Bucha and other regions of Ukraine is abhorrent and reprehensible, and New Zealand continues to respond to Putin’s mindless acts of aggression,” said Mahuta.
Trade minister Damien O’Connor said that these tariff increases work “in tandem” with Ukraine and international partners to put the most pressure possible on Putin’s regime to cease hostilities. “Officials remain in regular contact with businesses to ensure the impacts of international and domestic sanctions are understood,” O’Connor said.
The new tariffs will enter into force from April 25.
Every operational element of the Covid response has been “a disaster from start to finish”, according to Act’s leader David Seymour.
Asked for a response to the news Ashley Bloomfield would be resigning at the end of July, Seymour said it was difficult to find an aspect of the Covid response that hadn’t been botched.
“Contact tracing never reached anything like the so-called gold standard – which itself was barely mediocre, 80% in 96 hours. Testing, at various times, has been a complete disaster… then you go to rules of the game, we’ve had illogical rules where your dairy was allowed to open but your butcher wasn’t… then you’ve got the vaccination roll which initially did not involve doctors or pharmacists despite them being the main vaccinators,” Seymour told The Spinoff.
Asked about Bloomfield’s successor as director general, Seymour said they will have a “very tough job” in boosting the ministry’s performance. “I think they’re going to have to ask honest questions and accept that the Ministry of Health has been a failed organisation throughout Covid,” he said. “Unfortunately the capability of the ministry under Ashley’s leadership has been very weak. I don’t know if that’s a reflection on him, it may be that the best general in the world couldn’t have got more organised – but those are still the facts.”
Seymour’s criticisms of Bloomfield and the ministry go above and beyond that of any other party. Earlier, National’s Christopher Luxon paid tribute to Bloomfield as a hard worker throughout the pandemic. Seymour said other politicians weren’t prepared to tell the truth. “Any objective assessment of the basic operational things that we needed a Ministry of Health to execute, you can’t say they’ve succeeded in any of them,” Seymour said.
Just minutes after the Tauranga by-election was confirmed for June 18, Labour has revealed the candidate it hopes can take it out.
Cabinet minister Jan Tinetti will run for the Tauranga seat and is described by Labour’s president Claire Szabó as a “high flyer”.
“She has deep roots in the local community, having served as principal of Tauranga’s Merivale School for eleven years before entering parliament in 2017,” said Szabó. “Jan has earned rapid promotion within Labour since entering parliament, and is currently minister of Internal Affairs, minister for women and associate minister of education.”
Labour hasn’t won the Tauranga seat since 1935. It’s generally considered to be a safe National electorate, aside for a brief stint where it was held by NZ First leader Winston Peters. Despite this, Szabó said Tinetti will be “making the case that the Tauranga community has benefited enormously from Labour’s strong Covid management, and will benefit again from Labour’s strong management as the economy rebuilds, especially through exports and the reopening of tourism”.
Tinetti said she was excited to showcase Labour’s values and achievements. “I offer the community in Tauranga a direct voice in government and a seat at the cabinet table. The future of Tauranga is central to the future of New Zealand.”
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The Tauranga by-election, triggered by the resignation of National’s Simon Bridges, will take place on Saturday, June 18.
In a statement, prime minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed Bridges would officially be leaving parliament on May 6. “The deadline for candidate nominations to be received will be midday Tuesday May 17, and the last day for the return of the writ will be Sunday 10 July,” she said.
A writ, as I’ve just learned from Wikipedia, is the official mechanism by which an election is called. They are issued by the head of state or their representative.
Despite the suspicious timing of this announcement, it’s not likely Ashley Bloomfield will be putting his name forward to stand in the Tauranga seat. Asked by a reporter at today’s 1pm briefing whether he’d thought about running for parliament, Bloomfield simply said: “not a jot”.
Few candidates have so far confirmed their intention to run for the Tauranga seat, which has been a safe National electorate for a number of years.
Another 15 people with Covid-19 have died, bringing New Zealand’s pandemic death toll to 443.
Of the new deaths, three people were from the Auckland region, five from Waikato, one from Taranaki, one from Whanganui, one from MidCentral, one from Nelson Marlborough, one from West Coast, one from Canterbury, and one from South Canterbury.
Two were in their 60s, two in their 70s, four in their 80s, and seven were over 90. Six were women and nine were men.
Speaking from parliament, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said there are currently 654 people with the virus in hospital, including 23 in intensive care.
Overall community cases numbers have continued their downward trend, with 12,575 announced today. Today’s seven-day average of cases is 12,307, while last Wednesday it was 14,969.
Ashley Bloomfield urged even those who have had Covid-19 to get their booster shot, if they haven’t already.
“Our health and disability colleagues are concerned about the impact of flu this year at the same time as a possible second wave of omicron,” said Bloomfield. “If you haven’t had a flu vaccination before, this is the year to do it.”
He urged parents to get their kids double-vaccinated with the MRR vaccine.
‘Welcome to the first episode of the final season of the Ash and Chippy Show’
Upon arriving to the podium this afternoon, Hipkins said: “Welcome to the first episode of the final season of the Ash and Chippy Show.” The pair have been a common presence at 1pm press briefings over the past two years.
“I want to take a moment to say a very personal thank you to the man that most New Zealanders have come to know as the DG,” said Hipkins. “His workload has been enormous… his entire life has been dedicated to the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders.”
Bloomfield’s advice to the government had “consistently informed and been the basis for our decision making”, said Hipkins.
He added: “Dr Bloomfield, during your time as director general of health you have saved thousands if not tens of thousands of lives.”
Hipkins reminisced about Bloomfield calling him on election night, as he had “just sat down to eat my fish and chips”, to tell him there was a case of Covid-19 in the community. “So thanks for ruining that for me… But I absolutely respect your decision to take a break. It’s been an incredible couple of years.”
Bloomfield said he was looking forward to an “extended break” where he has the ability to try “let go” of the pandemic and spend more time with his family. He explicitly ruled out getting into politics, but was less definitive when asked if he would take up an international position.
“I’ve been thinking for a while about what’s a good time to step down,” he said. “It seems we’re at a good point in terms of the pandemic, the response is shifting. I’m also confident that the system is in good hands with the changes that are afoot.”
The hardest thing today would be talking to his staff on a Zoom meeting because “they’re all fantastic people and I feel very sad”, he added.
On being a “celebrity” throughout the pandemic, Bloomfield said it was still a surprise walking down the street and having people recognise him. On receiving negative comments and abuse, Bloomfield said, “It’s very gendered – the nature of the feedback I get is nothing compared with what a number of my colleagues who happen to be female get, and I think that’s terrible.”
Would there be karaoke at his leaving party? “Heck yes,” said Bloomfield, suggesting he may sing Friday I’m in Love by The Cure or repeat a duet with minister Verrall to Staying Alive.
The Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins is fronting today’s 1pm briefing.
There’s a lot on the agenda: along with the routine case and hospitalisation numbers, Hipkins will reveal more detail on the decision to lower the booster age to 16 and likely pay tribute to outgoing director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.
Tune in below and we’ll bring you all the key details from 1pm.
Teens aged 16 or 17 will, from tomorrow, be able to receive a booster dose of the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine.
Up until now, boosters have only been available to those over 18.
It means another 36,000 people will become eligible for the vaccine. Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins 16 and 17-year-olds who want to get boosted will need to have waited six months since their primary course of the vaccine.
“We know that over time, immunity to the virus wanes, so getting the booster gives the best protection against Covid-19,” he said.
“A booster dose is particularly recommended for 16- and 17-year-olds who’re at higher risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms and hospitalisation. This includes those who’re immunocompromised or living with a family member who is immunocompromised, and Māori and Pacific rangatahi.
Hipkins said the move to lower the age for boosters followed Medsafe advice. “Medsafe follows a robust approval process to ensure all the vaccines we use in New Zealand meet acceptable standards for safety, quality and efficacy,” he said.
Teens wanting to take up the booster offer can visit a walk-in clinic or any other vaccination facility nationwide.
Tributes have continued to roll in following the news this morning Ashley Bloomfield will be stepping down as director general of health from July.
First out of the gate was Covid response minister Chris Hipkins, who has worked closely alongside Bloomfield throughout much of the pandemic.
“Dr Ashley Bloomfield has been a calm, informative, and reassuring figure throughout our response to Covid-19,” said Hipkins. “We thank you Ashley for all you’ve done to keep us all safe. Give the man a beer, he’s truly earned it!”
Ayesha Verrall, the associate health minister and another visible presence in our Covid response, thanked Bloomfield in her capacity as both a minister and a doctor. “I want to acknowledge [Ashley Bloomfield] as a colleague who has made an unparalleled contribution to protecting the health of New Zealanders.”
As a Minister I want to thank Dr Bloomfield for advising the Govt on some of the most important decisions taken in peacetime. As a doctor I want to acknowledge @AshBloomfield as a colleague who has made an unparalleled contribution to protecting the health of New Zealanders.
Covid communicator and microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles had the news of Bloomfield sprung on her by The Spinoff live updates. She was shocked and gutted. After catching up on the news, Wiles said: “I can completely understand Dr Bloomfield’s decision to step down from his position early. This pandemic has taken a toll on all of us, but I can’t even begin to imagine the pressure he has been under for more than two years now. I will forever be grateful for his service during this extraordinary time in our history and wish him well.”
In a brief comment, National Party leader Christopher Luxon told The Spinoff that Bloomfield had worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic. “We acknowledge his steadfast service to New Zealand, thank him for it and wish him well in his future endeavours.”
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield wants to spend more time with his family when he leaves his job in a few months time.
In a letter to Ministry of Health staff, and obtained by the Herald, Bloomfield said he’d done everything he set out to do when he came into the role. “I’ve committed myself wholeheartedly to the role for nearly four years. The DG role is complex and challenging at any time and, with a one in 100 years pandemic, the last two years have been particularly challenging and intense,” he said.
“I would not have been able to do this without the support of many highly committed and talented people in the ministry and across the wider health system. The wider public service has done an outstanding job in helping lead the country through the Covid-19 pandemic and it’s been a pleasure working with other public service leaders to help deliver the response.”
Bloomfield said he is looking forward to an extended break once he officially steps down at the end of July. He hopes to spend time with his family before deciding what to do next.
“Equally importantly, I’m still in the job for the next four months. We remain in the middle of a pandemic, we are assisting in the sector reorganisation and we’re continuing with our vaccine programmes in the lead up to winter – so we’ll continue the hard mahi for some time to come,” he said.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has paid tribute to outgoing director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.
“There’s not many public servants I have got to know as well as Dr Ashley Bloomfield,” Ardern said in a post on Instagram. “In every sense of the word – through his tireless dedication, his focus on people, his calm and considered approach – he has been a true public servant.”
The prime minister singled out Bloomfield’s “humour and grace”, though said she’d keep the details of his “sporadic mockery” to herself.
“When we spoke about his decision to move on, he mentioned that he wanted to spend time with his family, and that’s the least we owe him,” said Ardern. “So kia ora from across the Motu, Dr Bloomfield. We thank you.”
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has resigned and will leave his post in July.
Prior to Covid-19, Bloomfield was likely unknown to many in the public but has since become one of the most prominent faces of the pandemic response. Public service commissioner Peter Hughes paid tribute to Bloomfield’s “outstanding job” throughout the pandemic and vaccination rollout.
“Dr Bloomfield has worked tirelessly for more than two years to keep New Zealanders safe from coronavirus,” said Hughes. “Dr Bloomfield has demonstrated remarkable resilience and courage in leading the health system’s overall response to Covid-19. That response has saved lives.”
Hughes said he had been aware since last year of Bloomfield’s intention to resign from the role ahead of the official end of his term in June 2023. An acting director general will be appointed before Bloomfield finishes on July 29.
“I thank Dr Bloomfield for his commitment to public service, his spirit of service to the community and his exceptional contribution to New Zealand’s Covid-19 response,” said Huges. “I know many New Zealanders will also be thankful for the job he has done.”
Bloomfield had always wanted to stay until New Zealand was in a good place with coronavirus, Hughes added. “That time is now.”
While we’re here… a throwback to the earliest days of the pandemic:
This is massive for both Twitter users and people with poor spelling.
The social media network has announced it’ll be testing an “edit tweet” function for users of the premium service Twitter Blue. It could then be rolled out to the rest of us plebs, with Twitter saying it’ll be testing “what works, what doesn’t, and what’s possible”.
now that everyone is asking…
yes, we’ve been working on an edit feature since last year!
no, we didn’t get the idea from a poll 😉
we're kicking off testing within @TwitterBlue Labs in the coming months to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what’s possible.
The government’s proposed fair pay legislation has passed its first reading in parliament, but not before the opposition took a few swipes at the issue.
The Fair Pay Agreements Bill would, according to the minister in charge Michael Wood, “level the playing field” between employers and employees. Speaking in parliament, Wood dedicated the bill to “Mele and Malia and all the other cleaners who keep our offices, our schools, and our hospitals clean and hygienic”.
“It’s for Jason and Wa’el and the security guards across New Zealand who work day and night to keep people and property safe,” he added.
Free pay agreements will enable good-faith bargaining to occur at the sector or occupational level, said Wood, and establish a minimum floor for conditions in that area.
But National’s Paul Goldsmith pushed back, telling MPs the government simply wanted to impose mandatory union deals on workplaces. “This bill is indulging an ideological wish list that this government came into government with,” he said. “The return to national awards and the move to strengthen unions, despite no empirical evidence whatsoever as to either the problem or the policy response.”
The bill will no face public scrutiny through select committee and is expected to become law before the end of the year.
The possibility of New Zealand sending lethal aid to Ukraine was put on the table – and then swiftly taken off again.
The Herald’s reported defence minister Peeni Henare wanted to send javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, but this was shot down by Cabinet.
“We’ve already put towards cabinet a number of options, which include some lethal support,” Henare said yesterday. “But at the moment, cabinet’s made the decisions it has.”
So far two tranches of sanctions have been introduced against Russia, largely targeting rich oligarchs and businesspeople. This has met some criticism, with the National Party saying not enough was being done to help Ukraine. Party leader Christopher Luxon has labelled Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” and today told RNZ that New Zealand should be in “lockstep” with our traditional allies.
“Our sanctions at the moment are relatively weak and there are opportunities for us to strengthen them,” he said.
Act seems to be on the same page, with David Seymour saying New Zealand “can’t afford to be the weakest link in the West.”