Health Minister's breach of Covid-19 lockdown rules 'a massive mistake' - PM

The Prime Minister today says Health Minister David Clark is "under no illusions that I expect better, and so does New Zealand" - after he breached Covid-19 lockdown rules. 

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The Prime Minister would normally sack Clark for his lockdown breaches, but won’t amid a global pandemic. Source: 1 NEWS

"What he did is wrong and there are no excuses," Jacinda Ardern said today. 

Ms Ardern demoted the Dunedin North MP from his Associate Finance portfolio and moved him down to the lowest ranking of Cabinet, saying under normal circumstances she would have sacked him.  

"He has made a massive mistake... but I need to make decisions in the best interest of New Zealand," Ms Ardern said.

Jacinda Ardern and David Clark Source: Getty

"I wasn't interested in excuses, he wasn't interested in offering them. He has made a mistake and he has paid the price.

"He has no defence, no excuse... but the price cannot be in our response to Covid-19."

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She would not say if he would be sacked after the pandemic eases. 

Ms Ardern said amid the Covid-19 pandemic it was "critical we have deep prior knowledge", a requirement was needed of DHB leadership, understanding of the health workforce and the nature of the global pandemic. 

She said it would have been challenging to pull another MP up to Health Minister. "I was not willing to sacrifice the time to bring someone up to speed while we are in the midst of a global pandemic."

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"Simply put, I determined we could not afford massive disruption in our health system."

Dr Clark apologised to the public this morning, telling the epidemic select committee "on the first weekend of the lockdown I drove to the beach about 20 kilometres from my house for a walk".

"The trip, in hindsight can only be seen as a clear breach of the principles of the lockdown of staying local and not driving long distances for recreational spots," he told the committee - who did not ask the Health Minister any questions about the breach. 

It comes after Dr Clark also breached lockdown measures by visiting a mountain bike trail last week.