Dr Ashley Bloomfield reveals his own anxiety battle during Covid-19

Jessica Satherley
Dr Ashley Bloomfield reveals his own anxiety battle during Covid-19
Dr Ashley Bloomfield was interviewed by Westpac NZ CFO Ian Hankins in Wellington.

He was the cool, calm face of the pandemic, but even Dr Ashley Bloomfield admits he suffered from a degree of anxiety at the height of the Covid-19 response. 

The Director-General of Health was interviewed by Westpac NZ CFO Ian Hankins as part of the Westpac Smarts series in association with the Wellington Chamber of Commerce. 

Dr Bloomfield revealed how he dealt with the intense pressure of his role during the Covid-19 response and how he managed his wellbeing. 

"I definitely took the time to keep doing physical activity and connect with my family at the end of each day,” he said.  

"I recognised when my anxiety was ramping up after being under such intensity every day.  

“One day I felt my anxiety ramp up and I knew I really needed to take a break over Queen’s Birthday weekend, so that my mind would still be clear for major decision making.   

“So, I made sure to take a few days off to try and relax,” he said. 

“My family was also a huge support. 

“Even though I was working late every night, I could be home by 7.30pm and we could sit down as a family for dinner,” Bloomfield said. 

Bloomfield’s role in the leadership team of New Zealand’s Covid-19 strategy thrust him into the spotlight. 

But if you ask him why he is such a celebrity, he puts it down to just “becoming the face of normally faceless bureaucracy”. 

“The 1pm event each day during lockdown was the one thing that connected us all, that’s how we all understood what was happening each day,” he says when reflecting on his daily press conferences. 

Instead of taking credit, Dr Bloomfield praised the MSD and Treasury’s quick implementation of the wage subsidy and the New Zealand public service. 

“The NZ Police did an amazing job and worked through really tricky issues like the community check points.  

“They did a fantastic job supporting communities and iwi,” he said. 

“It’s amazing what can be achieved with a common sense of purpose.  

“New Zealanders did extraordinary things, and so did our central Government.  

“The public communication was fantastic, obviously our Prime Minister is a fantastic communicator. 

“We took the public on a journey through the daily press conferences. 

“So, when people were asked to go into lockdown, we answered their questions of why and how and the public did it, which was a great thing to see.” he said. 

“That effort from everyone meant we did better than we thought we would, and we exceeded our expectations. 

“I was so overwhelmed how Kiwis embraced it and went above and beyond and that’s where our success was. 

“We overachieved, so now we have options which is a great position to be in,” he said. 

As Bloomfield praised the leadership of New Zealand, he also noted that the most important traits of a good leader include authenticity, compassion and kindness without ego.  

“If you see leaders without those qualities, don’t spend time with them,” he said. 

On reflection of his own team, the Director-General of Health says they have recognised the areas they weren’t strong in.  

“The health system is never straight forward.  

“We don’t have leaders in the centre of the system like the police or defense force do.  

“We deal with uncertainty and greyness every day and we have to be disciplined around decision making with incomplete information.  

“But we've got a big manual now about protocols during these sorts of situations,” he says. 

When asked about a potential vaccine, Dr Bloomfield said, “there are many irons in the fire”. 

"But there’s no guarantee around timing or success of manufacturing a vaccine on a huge scale.   

“The global challenge is that there is a lot of nationalism around vaccine distribution.  

"But we’re working with a number of countries around an international approach,” he says. 

He is hopeful that New Zealand can stay in a strong position, even if outbreaks in the community occur. 

“Originally, we still had the border open, so we had sparks of cases. 

“But now we have the controls on the border, so as long as we find cases early, we can control it. 

“The biggest development within our health services team is that we now have contact tracing on a single national database. 

“So, if we get a case in Auckland, we can directly share the information throughout the country straight away.   

“We’re in a much better position now with preparedness compared to the start of the year,” he says. 

His best piece of advice for companies is to “display QR codes and encourage teams to use it’ and he encourages Kiwis to stay vigilant despite life feeling back to normal in New Zealand. 


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