New Zealand’s unlikely pandemic hero Bloomfield says goodbye

Jul 26, 2022, 10:06 PM | Updated: 10:25 pm
New Zealand Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield speaks during his last COVID-19 response u...

New Zealand Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield speaks during his last COVID-19 response update news conference at the Ministry of Health in Wellington, New Zealand, Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Bloomfield, the mild-mannered doctor who became an unlikely hero to many New Zealanders during the coronavirus pandemic, held his final media conference Wednesday after resigning as director-general of health. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)

(Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Ashley Bloomfield, the mild-mannered doctor who became an unlikely hero to many New Zealanders during the coronavirus pandemic, held his final media conference Wednesday after resigning as director-general of health.

Perhaps fittingly, Bloomfield, 57, ended up answering as many questions about the topic of the day — water fluoridation — as he did about the nation’s COVID-19 response, which has faded as a primary concern for many people, despite a persistent and deadly omicron outbreak.

In early 2020, Bloomfield rose from relative obscurity to become a household name as he stood alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern day after day to face TV cameras and talk New Zealanders through the nation’s pandemic response, which began with border closures and lockdowns and later evolved to vaccination drives and containment measures.

For many New Zealanders, especially early in the pandemic, Bloomfield’s measured, science-based responses to questions from reporters offered comfort during a time of spiraling uncertainty.

He was celebrated as New Zealand found initial success in eliminating the virus entirely and living life as normal while most other countries faced growing outbreaks. People wrote songs about him and emblazoned his image on coffee mugs and dish towels.

One of his most memorable moments was not something he said but his understated reaction — a slight grin and raise of his eyebrows — when then COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins comically misspoke about exercising outdoors, saying people could go “spread their legs.”

But as New Zealand inevitably experienced virus outbreaks, the reaction to Bloomfield became more mixed — and political. Some called for greater freedoms and an end to measures like vaccine mandates that Bloomfield had endorsed.

Bloomfield has talked publicly about the stress and anxiety he felt facing the media, especially early in the pandemic. Health officials said Wednesday’s media briefing was the 307th he’d given since the pandemic began.

Bloomfield said he had no regrets about the health advice he’d given, even though it had changed as the evidence about the virus had changed, forcing officials to stay humble. He said one lesson had been that citizens were the biggest healthcare workforce.

“We tend to underestimate the capability and capacity and resourcefulness of our communities,” Bloomfield said. “And, in fact, providing them with the resources and the information to get on and do the right thing can lead to enormous success.”

Ardern said Bloomfield had achieved many successes as director-general of health but would be particularly remembered for the “incredible and important” role he played in getting New Zealanders through the pandemic. She said the government’s science-based approach had put Bloomfield in the spotlight.

“He was quite central to the response,” she said. “That may have caused him to be in the fray more than he otherwise would have been, but he handled it with such grace and professionalism.”

When asked about his plans for the future, Bloomfield was giving nothing away.

“Lunch,” he said, to laughter. “And after Saturday, a jolly good break.”

As he walked out of his final media conference, dozens of his staff, who had surreptitiously gathered, gave him a standing ovation.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Jerzy Urban, spokesman for Polish communist govt, dies at 89

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Jerzy Urban, a spokesman for Poland’s communist-era government in the 1980s who masterminded state propaganda and censorship for a regime in the final years before its collapse, has died. He was 89. His death was announced on Monday by a satirical weekly magazine, Nie (No), which he founded and led in […]
4 hours ago
A shadow is cast on the stage of the Trafo House of Contemporary Arts while technicians set up the ...
Associated Press

Music stops: Energy costs close Hungary theaters for winter

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A theater in Hungary’s capital will sit through a cold and quiet winter after its managers chose to shut it down rather than pay skyrocketing utility prices that are putting a squeeze on businesses and cultural institutions across Europe. The 111-year-old Erkel Theatre in Budapest, one of three performance spaces of […]
4 hours ago
In this photo provided by the Armed Forces of Denmark, a view the disturbance in the water above th...
Associated Press

Sweden sends special diving vessel to area of pipeline leaks

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Sweden has sent a vessel capable of “advanced diving missions” to the Baltic Sea area where ruptured undersea pipelines leaked natural gas for days, the Swedish navy said Monday. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of sabotaging Russia-built natural gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea to Germany, a […]
4 hours ago
In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supre...
Associated Press

Iran’s supreme leader breaks silence on protests, blames US

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded publicly on Monday to the biggest protests in Iran in years, breaking weeks of silence to condemn what he called “rioting” and accuse the U.S. and Israel of planning the protests. Khamenei said he was “heartbroken” by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa […]
4 hours ago
Columbus Blue Jackets' Johnny Gaudreau, right, looks for an open pass against the Pittsburgh Pengui...
Associated Press

Gaudreau to Columbus tops busy summer of NHL player movement

Johnny Hockey moved East, though not as far as everyone thought. The champs out West couldn’t keep the entire band together. And two teams with lengthy playoff droughts made some moves hoping to change that. Johnny Gaudreau joining Columbus headlined a busy offseason of player movement around the NHL. Darcy Kuemper left Colorado for Washington […]
4 hours ago
Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, front, arrives in Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Sep...
Associated Press

UK and allies meet to discuss pipeline security after blasts

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — The Joint Expeditionary Force group of northern European nations will meet Monday to discuss the safety of undersea pipelines and cables after blasts ruptured two natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said. Wallace said the virtual meeting has been called by the U.K. and the […]
4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
New Zealand’s unlikely pandemic hero Bloomfield says goodbye