NZ’s Ashley Bloomfield bows out – a look at his key moments as health chief

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Dr Ashley Bloomfield montage
After two and a half years of a pandemic, it is probably hard to remember a time when Dr Ashley Bloomfield needed to introduce himself. Montage: Nik Dirga/RNZ

RNZ News

After guiding New Zealand through two and a half years of a pandemic, Dr Ashley Bloomfield’s time as Director-General of Health has come to an end.

We look back on some of the key moments during his time in the role:

22 May 2018
Dr Ashley Bloomfield was named as the new Director-General of Health while he was serving as the acting chief executive of Capital and Coast District Health Board.

2019
The health system faced some big challenges in 2019. Dr Bloomfield fronted health responses to both a measles outbreak and the Whakaari/White Island disaster.

27 January 2020
“Kia ora koutou katoa, welcome to the Ministry of Health, thank you very much attending this briefing this afternoon. My name is Dr Ashley Bloomfield, I’m the Director-General of Health.”

After two and a half years of a pandemic, it is probably hard to remember a time when Dr Ashley Bloomfield needed to introduce himself.

Before New Zealand had its first case of covid-19, back when it was referred to simply as a coronavirus (WHO would name it covid-19 on 12 February 2020), Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay held a media stand-up.

Like most of the early briefings, it was held at the Ministry of Health.

It was two weeks after the first confirmed case outside of China had been identified and across the ditch, Australia had four cases. There had been 56 deaths worldwide.

28 February 2020
Almost exactly one month later, New Zealand’s first covid-19 case was confirmed in someone that had returned from overseas.

Reminiscent of a format we would come to know more intimately as time went on, the evening news would cut to a live press conference where Dr Bloomfield and then-Health Minister David Clark would provide more details of New Zealand’s first case. (Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was in Australia at the time.)

The following day, supermarkets would see a rush of customers buying up toilet paper, hand sanitiser and tinned food.

March 2020
We would start to hear a lot more from Dr Bloomfield as the second, third and fourth (who had been at a Tool concert) cases of covid-19 were confirmed in early March.

By the end of the month New Zealand would be in lockdown and Dr Bloomfield had become a daily part of our lives.

“It did feel a little bit like I was having a performance review at one o’clock every day, broadcast live on television. But that’s as it should be — your job is to ensure that we’re being held accountable for our response,” he said.

Jainda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield, as made by Scott Savage and Colleen Pugh.
PM Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield … creatively captured from a daily 1pm update fan. Image: RNZ

Daily cases had jumped to numbers in the eighties and the briefings had shifted to the Beehive, against a backdrop of yellow and white striped Unite Against Covid-19 branding.

On 29 March, during the 1pm briefing, Bloomfield would announce New Zealand’s first covid-19 death.

4 May 2020
“No new cases”. For the first time since New Zealand went into level 4 lockdown on 25 March, Dr Bloomfield announced there were no new cases of covid-19. It would be a phrase we would hear more of as the first community outbreak would start to slow.

And it evoked such emotion that “There are no new cases of covid-19 to report in New Zealand today” came second place in Massey University’s Quote of the Year.

August 2020
In an effort to encourage people to test for covid-19, Dr Bloomfield had his first covid-19 PCR test while filmed at a community testing site.

“It was much less painful than tackling Billy Weepu on the rugby field a couple of weeks ago.”

*Raises eyebrows
With millions of people stuck at home in isolation watching daily media briefings, it was no surprise that Dr Bloomfield would find himself in meme-territory.

This was Dr Bloomfield’s response when he was asked about 5G in 2020:

Ashley Bloomfield being asked about 5G conspiracy theories on April 8 vs Ashley Bloomfield being asked about bleach injections on April 26.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield being asked about 5G conspiracy theories on April 8 vs Ashley Bloomfield being asked about bleach injections on April 26. Image: RNZ

And a year later when Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said people should go outside and “spread your legs”.


The Guardian on the Hipkins quote.


Festival debut
Who would have thought Dr Bloomfield would grace the main stage at Rhythm and Vines festival?

Unstoppable summer video.

December 2020
Dr Bloomfield was awarded the New Zealand Medical Association’s highest accolade — The Chair’s Award

A lot of fan-art for Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield was produced as a result of the Covid crisis.
Fan art for Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Image: Sam Rillstone/RNZ

17 August 2021
The prime minister announced another nationwide lockdown after a case, assumed to be the delta variant, was detected. That meant the 1pm briefings, and daily doses of Dr Bloomfield, were back too.

22 September 2021
As New Zealand tackled the delta outbreak, Dr Bloomfield broke the news that we may never get to zero cases of covid-19.

A portrait pie of Dr. Ashley Bloomfield.
A portrait pie of Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Image: Devoney Scarfe/RNZ

A portrait pie of Dr. Ashley Bloomfield. Photo: Supplied / Devoney Scarfe

October 2021
During Super Saturday, Dr Bloomfield was caught on camera busting a move at one of the community events.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield’s dance moves.

6 April 2022
Announced he was stepping down.

“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, and most certainly my family will be very pleased to have a little more of my time,” he said.

May 2022
Dr Bloomfield tested positive for covid-19 while he was at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

Professional history

  • In May 2018, Dr Bloomfield was appointed the new Director-General of Health.
  • Dr Bloomfield was the acting Chief Executive for Capital & Coast District Health Board from 1 January 2018.
  • From 2015-2017, he was chief executive of the Hutt Valley District Health Board – the first clinician to lead the Hutt Valley District Health Board.
  • In 2017 Dr Bloomfield attended the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme.
  • Prior to becoming chief executive at the Hutt Valley DHB, Dr Bloomfield held a number of senior leadership roles within the Ministry of Health, including, in 2012, acting Deputy Director-General, sector capability and implementation.
  • From 2012-15 he was Director of Service, Integration and Development and General Manager Population Health at Capital & Coast, Hutt and Wairarapa District Health Boards.
  • From 1999-2008 he was a Fellow of the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine. Since 2008 he has been a Fellow of the NZ College of Public Health Medicine.
  • In 2010-2011 he was Partnerships Adviser, Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health at the World Health Organisation, Geneva.
  • Dr Bloomfield obtained a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the University of Auckland in 1990.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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