NZ coronavirus response minister slips up, calls on people to “spread their legs”

New Zealand Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins accidentally called on people to “spread their legs” during a press conference. Hipkins made the slip of the tongue on Aug. 22, when he made remarks about New Zealanders exercising outdoors amid the country’s Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. The minister also gave an update on the country’s COVID-19 case counts in the same press briefing.

Hipkins spoke about New Zealanders maintaining proper social distance when he made the blunder. “It is a challenge for people in high-density areas to get outside and spread their legs when they are surrounded by other people,” he said during the press briefing. Hipkins meant to say “stretch” instead of “spread,” but it was too late when he realized he uttered the wrong word. He bumbled through the rest of his statement following his slip of the tongue.

The minister’s response did not go unnoticed by Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, who was standing next to Hipkins. Bloomfield raised his eyebrows and smirked following Hipkins’s gaffe. Hipkins later corrected himself with a chuckle – saying he would go and “stretch his legs.” He continued that the media “would all have fun with him later.”

Later that day, Hipkins took to social media and posted a photo poking fun at his own gaffe. The picture had this caption: “That moment when you realize that what you had intended to say and what you had actually just said weren’t the same. At least I’ve given you all something to laugh about.”

True enough, Hipkins’s slip went viral on social media – with many New Zealanders on Twitter poking fun at the blunder. One user tweeted: “Keep socially distanced when out spreading your legs.” Another user wrote: “Chris Hipkins accidentally saying ‘spread their legs’ instead of ‘stretch’ is exactly what we needed today.”

New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdowns are no laughing matter

Even though Hipkins’s blunder gave New Zealand something to laugh about, it did little to change the heavy mood in the country following a nationwide lockdown. Authorities imposed a lockdown following the spread of the highly infectious B16172 delta variant.

Before the August 2021 lockdown, New Zealand had been lauded for its virus-free status since February. Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, New Zealand only saw 26 deaths due to COVID-19.  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received praise from many countries across the globe for her handling of the pandemic.

However, the entry of the delta variant in New Zealand put Ardern’s approach under scrutiny. Initially, one COVID-19 case from the delta variant was first reported on Aug. 17. The strain first reported in India spread fast in the country, with more than 100 cases being recorded on Aug. 23.

Also on Aug. 23, Ardern extended the country’s nationwide lockdown by three days – until midnight on Aug. 27. The lockdown in Auckland – New Zealand’s largest city and the epicenter of the current COVID-19 outbreak – was also extended until Aug. 31. (Related: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE: New Zealand extends repressive COVID-19 lockdown to give government more time to vaccinate entire country.)

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