Bloomfield reflects on 'bittersweet moments' during pandemic

July 28, 2022

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield may have become a household name thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, but he's remaining humble, thanking Kiwis for what has been achieved.

After being thrust onto the nation's television screens back in 2020, it's Bloomfield's last week on the job.

"That's over and out," were his closing words at his 307th news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking to Breakfast on Thursday, Bloomfield said he's looking forward to a holiday and the chance to decompress.

READ MORE: 2021 in review: The light-hearted Covid-19 moments

But his exit won't be without its "bittersweet moments".

"I work with fantastic people and that's the hardest bit about leaving the role," he admitted.

"I'm kind of not looking forward to leaving the building for the last time, but certainly looking forward to a break."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

Asked what had been his smartest decision and New Zealand's "best shot" of getting this far in the pandemic, Bloomfield said the nationwide lockdown in 2020 and the elimination strategy.

He remarked the country had set out to bend the curve, but had crushed it instead.

"Those very tough decisions early on to go for an elimination approach were absolutely the right thing to do."

Bloomfield said he was most proud of the vaccination programme, with 95% of the eligible population aged 12 and over fully vaccinated.

"Of course I played a part in that, but it was the sum of an enormous amount of effort by providers, by families, by communities.

"As a country, the fact that we achieved that really high level of vaccination was an incredible achievement and unparalleled in the country's history, really, and one of the best results around the world."

Dr Ashley Bloomfield showing off his dance moves in Porirua

Bloomfield remarked the division which the vaccine had led to, between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, was hard.

READ MORE: 2020 in review: Five light-hearted 1pm Covid-19 briefing moments

"There was really some behaviour directed at our teams who were out there that was unpleasant and unnecessary of course. That disturbed me."

However, the fact 95% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated "speaks volumes," he said.

"I think it speaks volumes for New Zealanders that they did listen, that they ultimately trusted the vaccination programme and that it was the right thing to be a part of and they heeded the call."

But the vaccine rollout had come with "one big lesson", Bloomfield admitted, seemingly referring to the controversy over Māori vaccination rates.

To date, 88.6% (505,668) of Māori are fully vaccinated, but some Māori leaders, academics, and political parties voiced their concerns around Māori in the vaccine rollout.

Former Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

The Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency took legal action against the Ministry of Health last year for refusing to release details of all eligible Māori in the North Island who hadn't been vaccinated.

"The one big lesson for me is just how when communities mobilise, how resourceful they are and how much they can get done and I guess involving them a bit earlier on and having more direct channels out through our different providers and also community groups, would be something perhaps we would do a bit sooner in our response," Bloomfield admitted.

"That's a big lesson for me and I think the resourcefulness of communities is something we underestimated and our job is to get them the information and the resources to do what they do and then they get on and do a magnificent job. That's a big lesson for me."

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

The departing director-general of health remarked he's "just accepted" the fame the pandemic brought him, but admitted he's still surprised people recognise him on the street.

They not only thank him, but his colleagues, he said. "No one's rude, unpleasant or ungrateful.

"Everybody recognises the huge effort that went in by the public service and the health system to achieve what we've achieved. For my part it's been a huge privilege to be fronting that publicly on behalf of the great teams behind me."