NZ Health Minister Resigns Amid COVID Concerns

New cases have emerged after several weeks in the clear . . .

David Clark, New Zealand’s Minister of Health, resigned with immediate effect on Thursday amid widespread criticism of his handling of the country’s COVID-19 response. His most recent gaffe was publicly blaming the country’s well-respected Director-General of Health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, for failures to ensure adequate testing at the border for returning citizens and subsequent testing failures at managed isolation facilities for recent returnees. The failures have led to a handful of positive COVID-19 cases in New Zealand since late June after several weeks of being COVID-free. Clark had been roundly criticized after twice violating lockdown requirements.

The border debate: Open now or keep closed?

Minister Clark resigned at a time when minimal public health restrictions were in place, with major exceptions being that the border is closed to all but returning citizens and active managed isolation facilities for returnees. As a geographically isolated country with a significant tourism sector, a closed border is a major impediment to New Zealand’s economic recovery. Such is the gravity of the border issue that a triumvirate of prominent New Zealanders – former Prime Minister Helen Clark, former Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman, and former CEO of Air New Zealand Rob Fyfe – has issued a call to sensibly re-open the border to encourage economic recovery while moving away from the goal of eliminating the coronavirus from the country.

The travel bubble debate: Trans-Tasman or South Pacific?

In planning for opening their respective economies, New Zealand and Australia have discussed re-establishing travel between the two countries and thereby creating a Trans-Tasman ‘bubble’ (the Tasman Sea separates the two countries) without need for quarantine. And while the COVID-19 outbreak in the Australian state of Victoria has quashed moving forward with such plans in the near future, Australia’s tourism minister has stated that he is hopeful the Trans-Tasman travel bubble could come into effect in September, assuming the virus outbreak in Victoria can be controlled. Multiple Pacific island nations have indicated their desire to join the travel bubble too. As of now, borders remain closed on both sides of the Tasman and across the South Pacific.