For one of the few times in 50 days, there was no Covid-19 briefing.

Instead, the Ministry of Health issued a press release. It reported six new cases and a death.

After many hours of calm and precise briefings from public health professionals, it was an almost anti-social lack of contact.

Over those 50 days, the country has collectively tuned in at 1pm for the latest on Covid-19, almost always delivered in the calm and steady tones of director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

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But we are now in a phase where the briefings will not take place during weekends.

Instead, there will be press releases. And for Bloomfield, Saturday is a brief respite from the constancy of pandemic response.

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When Bloomfield first unexpectedly took a day off, it sent a shiver across the country. If he were to sneeze (into his elbow), you could imagine New Zealand catching a cold.

But there was no briefing on Saturday. When contacted yesterday at his Eastbourne home, Bloomfield said: "I'm officially not on today. I'm having a day off and spending as much of the day as I can with my family."

The first time the Ministry of Health decided there would be no briefing, there suddenly was. In that instance, the change in direction marked the arrival of fatalities in our Covid-19 story.

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That was March 29. It marks the progress of the virus that the news to be shared yesterday sent no new alarm through the country. George Hollings, who died in his 80s, was our 20th death from the virus.

It was "tragic", said the press release. "Our thoughts are with George's family today and in the coming days," it added.

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Mid-March was the point at which the Ministry of Health embarked on the now-familiar 1pm briefing. At the time, New Zealand had seven cases in total but the numbers were growing. We were more than two weeks away from Level 4 lockdown but virus modelling showed we would get there - and worse.

In the time since, Bloomfield has occupied the stage far more often than others. He has shared it - and occasionally surrendered it - to others, most notably director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay.

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield heads into the 1pm Covid-19 briefing. Photo / Hagen Hopkins Getty Images
Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield heads into the 1pm Covid-19 briefing. Photo / Hagen Hopkins Getty Images

Over the 50 days, the press conferences have seen camera angles widen as those doing the talking moved further apart.

At the beginning, Bloomfield appeared with a fellow Ministry of Health staff member and sign language interpreter. As the impact of social distancing emerged, so did camera angles widen to compensate for the growing distance between those speaking at podiums.

With one Auckland exception, the press conferences have run from Wellington. The shortest briefing since they began running daily was 12 minutes and the longest came in at 72 minutes.

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield heads into the 1pm Covid-19 briefing. Photo / Hagen Hopkins Getty Images
Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield heads into the 1pm Covid-19 briefing. Photo / Hagen Hopkins Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a regular co-presenter, with Finance Minister Grant Robertson filling in on occasions. Less regularly seen is Minister of Health David Clark, who spent the lockdown at his homes in Dunedin when not at a local beach or mountain bike track.

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Draper Cormack Group managing partner David Cormack - a specialist in communications and government relations - said the briefings form a key part of the communications strategy around Covid-19.

He said the plan had been to have Ardern speak on Sunday through to Thursday, for Robertson to hold down Fridays and to have no press conference on Saturdays. Events had trumped the planned day off until the past few weeks, as case numbers dwindled and the lockdown took effect.

Cormack said it was a difficult crisis to plan a communications strategy around because there was little in the way of precedent. "There is no playbook - this is uncharted territory."

However, in Ardern and Robertson, the Government had the "most trustworthy and empathetic MPs". The duo, combined with Bloomfield, "give certainty at a time when people are craving certainty".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark, prior to the lockdown. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark, prior to the lockdown. Photo / Mark Mitchell

As for Saturdays, Cormack said: "I think everyone is entitled to some time off."

Aspiring actor and musician Maxwell Apse - whose love song to Bloomfield has now been watched 85,000 times on YouTube - said he had become a less constant viewer of the 1pm briefings.

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Apse, who has turned the song into a lockdown LP, said the combination of falling numbers of new cases and the change in alert level had lessened anxiety and made the 1pm briefings less necessary.

Bloomfield, though, was always a welcome sight. "He hasn't stopped being a calming presence."

The 1pm briefings will begin again tomorrow. Bloomfield is expected to lead.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website