Health Minister David Clark has resigned from his Cabinet positions after weeks of controversy of how he was managing the Covid-19 response.
"It has become increasingly clear to me that my continuation in the role is distracting for the government's overall response to COVID-19 and the global pandemic", he said in a news conference in parliament.
Clark was already under a cloud after breaking lockdown in April and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who faces an election in September, admitted his presence had become a distraction.
"I've always taken a view that the team must come first.so I've made the call that it's best for me to step aside". And, for that, the Prime Minister must take responsibility.
Clark last week blamed health officials for border lapses after the country reported some imported cases that drew an angry public response.
That was despite comments to reporters, as recently as in Queenstown on Friday, that Clark would see out the rest of the term as Health Minister.
New Zealand's embattled Health Minister resigned on Thursday after security slip-ups at quarantine facilities where the coronavirus was detected just days after officials declared it had been eliminated from the country.
The surprise announcement came amid months of public outcry on Clark's dereliction of duty during and after the country's COVID-19 lockdown, reports Xinhua news agency.
In early April he admitted to driving his family about 20km for a walk during the first weekend of lockdown, and that only came out because he was caught driving his vehicle to a local mountain biking track.
"Thank you Ashley and your team for the extraordinary work you have done for our country during our most serious health crisis in a century".
It comes after a string of issues during the Covid-19 pandemic, including his breaching of lockdown rules.
But Mr Clark has been widely ridiculed.
"We've got to that position now".
Clark said he had mixed feelings about leaving the role, as he would be unable to shepherd through health and disability system reforms but could spend more time with his constituents in Dunedin.
Clark offered Ardern his resignation, but she refused - a decision for which she is now being criticised by the opposition.
Ardern would not directly say whether a viral video of Clark appearing to blame Bloomfield for border slip-ups was the catalyst for her discussions with him.
"As the health minister, it's my responsibility to not only follow the rules but set an example to other New Zealanders".
Ardern appointed Education Minister Chris Hipkins as interim health minister until the September election, after which she said she would consider a permanent replacement. "As David has mentioned to me, the wants of the workforce should come earlier than him as a person". "The question has to be asked; why did she repeatedly fail to fire him?"
"It has been a privilege to serve in this role", he said.