'Delivers the stats like no other': New Zealand's Covid-19 crush on health chief

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin
Photograph: Getty Images

An unassuming civil servant has become the unlikely hero of New Zealand’s coronavirus crisis, earning thousands of fans online and being nominated for the country’s highest honour.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield is the director-general of health and the public face of the country’s battle against the disease, alongside prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

Since March, Bloomfield has been fronting near-daily televised press conferences and has swiftly become a figure of fascination in a nation that has enjoyed early success in the global fight against coronavirus.

Related: Sex toy sales triple during New Zealand's coronavirus lockdown

Quietly spoken and always impeccably prepared, Bloomfield has impressed with his depth of knowledge and quick recall of statistics and unflappable demeanour.

New Zealand writer Anna Connell jokingly changed her Twitter handle to The Ashley Bloomfield Fan Club after repeatedly admiring his cool during press conferences. Overnight, her followers began to grow, and she is now the unofficial leader of the nation’s Bloomfield devotees.

“It’s unusual to have people unifying so positively around one person on Twitter, but it’s really hard to find anyone saying a bad word about him,” Connell said.

“I think he just epitomises something quite wholesome; he’s not political, he’s got a neutrality about him. He is a very appealing kind of guy. He’s very calm, and he’s very measured – and he’s got really nice hair.”

Dan Laufer, an expert in crisis communication at Victoria university, says Bloomfield’s public-sector background means he is able to command respect regardless of people’s political affiliations.

“Bloomfield is widely respected because he is a medical doctor which gives him an enormous amount of credibility in the eyes of the public when communicating information related to Covid-19,” Laufer says. “His communication style is very effective. Direct, fact-based and consistent.”

During the first week of lockdown when Bloomfield was given a Saturday away from work the country’s biggest news website ran a prominent story: “Ashley Bloomfield is Finally Having a Day Off” and Corin Dann, host of RNZ’s Morning Report added: “I think the whole country would say this is well-earned.”

A petition for Bloomfield to be awarded New Zealander of the year is gaining traction, celebrating the “competent, calm, factual and reassuring man”.

“Dr Ashley Bloomfield may just be doing his job, but I believe he is exceeding at it and what is expected of him in his role,” the petition reads. “His reassurance during NZ’s time of need is amazing. He communicates effectively but calmly and delivers numbers and stats like no other.”

According to the ministry of health, Bloomfield qualified in medicine at the University of Auckland in 1990 and specialised in public health, choosing to focus on non-communicable disease prevention and control. In 2011 he spent a year at the World Health Organization in Geneva, learning many of the skills he is now deploying to manage the outbreak.

Although the memes and fandom surrounding Bloomfield have a playful edge – and offer a fun distraction for many New Zealanders during a tense time – Connell believes Bloomfield is genuinely providing comfort.

“I think he is a figurehead of ‘keep calm and carry on’,” she says. “I don’t think people knew what they were looking for at this time, but it turned out it was exactly him.”