Coronavirus: Dr Lance O'Sullivan's Kaitaia criticisms called out by local Māori elder as 'scaremongering'

"Shut up or piss off" is the message a Māori elder has for Dr Lance O'Sullivan, following the public health advocate's criticism of Kaitaia's "ridiculous" response to the COVID-19 emergency.

In an interview with Newshub on Monday, a kaumātua, or Māori elder, of Far North iwi Ngāti Kurī called out Dr O'Sullivan for "criticising the community".

Last week, Dr O'Sullivan shared a video to his public Facebook page reprimanding the small Far North town for taking the COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown as "a joke". On Saturday, he uploaded another critique of Kaitaia's response to the emergency, aiming fire at under-resourced healthcare facilities.

In the video, Dr O'Sullivan berates the opening hours of a local community centre, saying people potentially infected with the virus will have to wait until Monday to be tested as the facility only operates on weekdays.

The 2014 New Zealander of the Year claimed he had come across a local man who was "almost certainly COVID positive" with an ongoing fever, cough and previous contact with a confirmed case. Dr O'Sullivan claimed the man had been out shopping and he wanted the "high-risk" individual to be tested.

"It's closed. Kaitaia, if you have COVID, you wait [until] Monday," Dr O'Sullivan said. "I am not critical of [the man], I am critical of a system that is not testing enough... you have got a Government telling us there are 5000 [tests] a day being done around the country. Well, it ain't up here."

Now, the Ngāti Kurī elder is saying Dr O'Sullivan's comments are unwarranted.

"We're quite okay with our health services up here and it doesn't need the type of remark that he's claiming Kaitaia to be," he told Newshub. "We don't appreciate this... Kaitaia has been given a bad name for a long time."

The kaumātua also called out Dr O'Sullivan's first controversial video, in which he lambasted the "ridiculous" amount of people shopping in the small town centre during lockdown.

"He's saying Kaitaia is not sticking to the rules - it's a small community and I think at the time when he went into town, there were a number of people [in town for] their benefit day," he explained. "They have to come to town to do their shopping. Most people would need to go to the banks, this is where this is all started from.

"I don't appreciate his videos, full stop... we don't need the criticism Lance is levelling out at our community... who does he think he is, coming up and making those comments on social media, we don't need that."

The kaumātua says Dr O'Sullivan's claims of the possible case visiting the supermarket is "scaremongering" and will dissuade the elderly from shopping out of fear of contracting the virus.

"For me, I'd like to tell him either shut up or piss off, don't come back into our community and try this bulls**t on us.

"We don't need Lance O'Sullivan to escalate things and scare the living daylight out of our people in the Far North."

However, many of Dr O'Sullivan's supporters agree with his videos and ongoing commentary. Numerous social media comments express admiration and respect for the doctor's work and praise him for "bringing these issues to the surface".

"I agree that it's shocking that the testing station is closed, terrible, but what's even worse is that the message hasn't got through to the sick person. He shouldn't be going to the supermarket if he's unwell," one person commented.

"Keep raising your voice and speaking up! Cause no one else cares about the health of the people than you do," wrote another.

DHB confirms clinic's weekday hours but says other services are available

Following O'Sullivan's video, Northland DHB confirmed the testing clinic - running out of the whare at the front of the hospital - is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm. However, the hospital's operational manager Neta Smith said there are other services operating.

"After-hours in Kaitaia, we have GP services and hospital services running 24 hours, seven days per week. If someone is unwell and they need to be seen they will be seen and tested," Smith said in a video.

"Anyone with acute respiratory infection and at least one of the following symptoms: cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, head cold, loss of sense of smell, with or without fever, will be tested for COVID-19."

She also pushed back on Dr O'Sullivan's suggestion there were only four swabs at the hospital.

"We have adequate supplies and equipment to treat you and currently have 120 swabs available in Kaitaia Hospital.

"We do not need two testing centres in Kaitaia but we may need to transition to another site in the community if Kaitaia hospital gets busy with COVID-19 cases."