22 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Simon Bridges defends stance after backlash from post criticising government

9:03 am on 22 April 2020

National Party leader Simon Bridges has defended his social media post that copped backlash for criticising the government after the lockdown extension.

National leader Simon Bridges speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on April 09, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Photo: Pool / Getty Images

In his post, Bridges said work had only just begun on surveillance testing, and that tracing was not up to scratch - and continued to say New Zealand should be following Australia's lead on what restrictions were necessary.

Bridges told Morning Report he had given a warning in Parliament that the national pandemic plan lacked when it came to tackling Covid-19.

"I made the point in Parliament and I don't really want to look backwards but months ago in relation to this issue, that a general plan on the flu doesn't cut it when it comes to Covid-19."

Asked if he would have ignored medical advice and ended the lockdown, Bridges said: "Actually the medical advice was to stay in lockdown for a fortnight as I understand it."

"My worry is that the medicine is worse than the cure ... the likes of Margaret who has had her colonoscopy delayed for possible cancer. There are big health ramifications for remaining in this period we're in and that's before you get to the thousands of business owners who are emailing me, calling me, deeply worried."

He said he was concerned for the small business owners who told him they couldn't sleep at night, worrying about the uncertainty of their future.

*See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

He argued that Australia's health figures on Covid-19 were similar to New Zealand, however, with more relaxed rules around businesses operating.

"On the other side of it, they have had a much more open economy, business people actually haven't had to sit there in suffering in silence, worrying at night so that they can't sleep, as many have been telling me they do [in New Zealand]."

Even if some businesses in Australia chose not to operate, he said, that option should remain in their hands.

"You cannot deny that much more of the economy has been open - for manufacturing, for construction, for mining, for retail."

Bridges said he did not believe Australia would have to necessarily extend its lockdown as a result.

Public reaction and party support

Bridges' post has garnered 18,000 reactions online, 3000 likes, and almost 15,000 reacted with either laughter or anger emoticons as of the morning of 22 April.

Some of the comments left are from people who say they are National Party supporters, but that they praise Ardern's leadership in this period of uncertainty.

In response, Bridges said there were different views in regards to his post.

"I receive hundreds of emails a day, that over time are many thousands, from small business owners who take a very different view, their point to me is quite clearly that they need a voice and they need the National Party to ask the questions of the government, to push on the issues that I've talked about, about a lockdown that's going on longer and in time costs and uncertainty mean they may not be in business by Budget 2020."

He said he understood the country was going through a difficult time.

"There will be people who've been paid wages and are sitting at home and heard the public health message and feel very strongly about that, I get that, but I can also tell you there are just as many New Zealanders who are doing it tough."

Asked about whether his party supported him in his views, Bridges said they did but would not elaborate further on how many did, saying "I think it's a bit silly".

He said Paula Bennett did support him.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs