Outgoing public health director Dr Caroline McElnay is eager to escape the country and take some time off, after two years of helping lead New Zealand’s Covid-19 response.
McElnay’s departure from the post, which she has held for five years, came shortly after Chief Health Officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield also announced her resignation.
READ MORE: ‘Mixed feelings’ for Bloomfield as he steps down from role
On Thursday, the couple took part in the 299th national press conference on Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Napier-based McElnay said the constant travel to and from Wellington had been difficult and her decision to quit was largely down to wanting to spend more time with her family.
“It has been difficult to travel constantly and in lockdown it has been difficult to stay [in Wellington]. For me and my family, it was the right time.”
When asked if misogynistic comments about her appearance influenced her decision, she replied that it was not something she had engaged with.
“I’ve had quite a few comments about my hair, which I’m not sure [Bloomfield] received pretty much the same criticism about her hair,” she replied.
“I don’t really get involved in social media that much and I find the less you read the comments the better. I’m here to do my job in the best way possible and I can get the positive feedback I’m looking for. .of my bosses and the people I work for.”
Reflecting on the pandemic response, McElnay said his high point was right at the start when the hive was full of people from different backgrounds and government agencies working together to solve a single problem.
“It was something that I hadn’t experienced. It was good to see and hopefully we will see that for future events as well.”
The strategy they came up with is why New Zealand’s death toll from Covid-19 is “unbelievably low”, McElnay said.
“We’ve had such an incredible response here in New Zealand.”
Bloomfield described McElnay as a “real rock to me”.
“Personally, I just want to fully acknowledge Dr. McElnay’s calm, supportive and solution-oriented approach over the past five years, but especially the past two years,” he said.
McElnay’s future plans
McElnay plans to travel overseas for a long time. Originally from Ireland, she plans to return home to visit her family, while hiking.
“What I want to do is spend a little more time hiking in particular – taking long walks and being able to go a really long time without a cell phone. I’m really looking forward to it, and the one of the advantages of going abroad, it’s even more difficult for people to reach you,” she smiles.
She plans to return to New Zealand at some point and return to the public health sector, although she has no work waiting for her when she returns.
“I haven’t really thought about what kind of role I might have when I return…what I might be less keen on is having a job that requires a lot of travel.”