5 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: National MP criticised for encouraging panic buying

6:04 pm on 5 March 2020

National MP David Bennett has faced heavy criticism for saying people should be panic buying in the face of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

National MP David Bennett

National MP David Bennett. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Hamilton East MP told a local radio station people should be concerned about the government's response - and should prepare for an outbreak by stockpiling.

He's been labelled "irresponsible", "drongo-istic" and even a "clown".

Bennett told FreeFM radio on Monday the government had dropped the ball on coronavirus and people should be concerned.

The host raised the panic buying seen in some supermarkets over the weekend.

"So they should be, you should be out there panic buying, you know.

"If you're in government and you're in Parliament your job is to probably to ease people's fears and that, but I don't believe in this case you should. The reality is you should stock up on food", he told FreeFM.

Infectious disease expert Siouxsie Wiles said Bennett's comments were "immensely irresponsible".

Dr Siouxsie Wiles

University of Auckland microbiologist Sioiuxsie Wiles. Photo: Supplied

"The message that's coming out from myself and other public health officials has been 'we don't want you to panic, we want you to prepare, but we don't want you to panic'," she said.

Wiles said there were very real consequences to senseless panic buying.

"I had a conversation yesterday with a lady who is immunocompromised and often uses hand sanitiser when she's out and about and she can't get any anymore," she said.

Wiles said she had been seeing red over the opposition's response to the virus, and a public health emergency was not a time to be eroding confidence.

"If they do have concerns about how the government or health officials are handling this than do this in private rather undermine them.

"The last thing we need is the New Zealand public panicking and doing all the wrong things because they hear the government response or the health official's response being criticised constantly," Wiles said.

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

National leader Simon Bridges rejected that, saying his party was doing what a responsible opposition does.

"We have a real role here and I'm not calling for panic, I'm not suggesting that everything will at every point be perfect but I do think the response health-wise has been less than competent and assured," Bridges said.

MPs from all parties gave National a serve, accusing them of irresponsible politicising.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters told reporters "nobody here pays any attention to his drongo-istic behaviour, so why should they in the constituency worry about what he says".

ACT leader David Seymour joked that if he was David Bennett he would be "panicking all the time".

"I think that we need to be prepared but not over-react and certainly don't go rioting around supermarkets."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said Bennett's approach was not "sensible or responsible" and politicians should be remaining calm.

Greens co-leader James Shaw said it was "incumbent upon politicians right across the House to have a duty of care for the people we represent".

Bennett's party colleagues did not endorse his point of view.

Nikki Kaye said that while people "will naturally be stocking up on supplies", staying calm was key so the use of the word panic was "not helpful".

Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said he did not think New Zealanders were in the panic buying situation at the moment, and said he himself had not stocked up on anything.

Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse agreed, saying "I do the shopping in our household, so I'll be shopping at the weekend, but it will be business as usual".

In a statement, Bennett acknowledged he said New Zealanders should be out there panic buying.

"In hindsight, I realise that this was not helpful. All New Zealanders should be following advice from public health officials", he said.