A New Zealand politician has confessed that he leaked the private details of all of the country’s active cases of Covid-19 to the media, which decided not to publish or use them.
Hamish Walker, an opposition MP from the centre-right National party, said in a statement he was the source of a list of private information about the 18 active cases, which was provided to several news outlets this week.
“I did this to expose the government’s shortcomings,” Walker said, adding that he had been told his actions were not illegal.
A former president of the National party, Michelle Boag, then gave a statement revealing she had been the person who accessed the list of details – in her capacity as acting chief executive of a rescue helicopter trust – and passed them to Walker.
“I very much regret my actions,” she said. She added that she had stepped down from her role with the trust, and said she had let down the trust – a charity – “badly”.
“I very much regret my actions and did not anticipate that Hamish would choose to send it on to some media outlets,” Boag said.
Earlier in the week, the government had announced an independent inquiry into the leak, which it believed was deliberate and designed to embarrass.
Dr Ayesha Verrall, an infectious disease physician and Labour party candidate, called Walker’s move “totally unethical” in a tweet.
“Totally unethical. This is patient information. Idea that it needed to be sent to media to make a point about privacy beggars belief,” she said.
The National party’s new leader, Todd Muller, said Walker’s actions showed “an error of judgment” but did not call for his resignation – a move that critics slammed as weak.
“I have asked Hamish to acknowledge this [error] to Michael Heron QC and cooperate fully with his inquiry into how the information made it into the public domain,” Muller said in a statement, adding that he had transferred Walker’s forestry, land information and associate tourism portfolio to another MP.
The incident has shocked New Zealanders and is being viewed as the first smear attempt of the upcoming general election. Muller and his National party colleagues have spent weeks criticising the government’s Covid-19 response as a “shambles”.
I don’t know Hamish Walker. Leaking this clearly highly-sensitive private health information to news media outlets is not excusable. And this non-apology doesn’t cut it. https://t.co/rEW7xCyrVk— Kevin Hague (@KevinHague) July 7, 2020
The actions of both National MP Hamish Walker and party powerbroker Michelle Boag in leaking the private details of people in managed isolation are utterly disgraceful. The party needs to have a fucking good look at itself, frankly.— Russell Brown (@publicaddress) July 7, 2020
Walker faced criticism last week after he said in a news release that his constituents in the South Island did not want returning New Zealanders to be quarantined in their region, referring to travellers “from India, Pakistan and Korea” in his statement.
His remarks were derided by the government as racist, which he denied.
New Zealand’s borders are closed for the foreseeable future, and anyone arriving in the country is required to quarantine for two weeks. Fewer than 1,500 people became infected with the disease in the Island country, and 22 people died.