Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has defended high-profile microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles after she was filmed 5km from her home on a beach with a friend without a mask during lockdown.
Dr Bloomfield told the 1pm press conference on Friday that he doesn’t believe Dr Wiles broke the COVID-19 rules, but National leader Judith Collins has labelled the Auckland University infectious diseases expert a “hypocrite”.
Dr Wiles has become a household name due to her regular appearances in the media to share advice and expertise on COVID-19. She won the title of Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year for her “positive contribution” to the country.
The microbiologist frequently encourages people to follow COVID-19 rules, and is on the record as recently as August 18 advising the public to “stay away from people” and to “physically disconnect for a little while”.
During a virtual conversation with a Pacific group aligned with the National Party, Collins laid into Dr Wiles after a video was posted online showing the science communicator about 5km from her home at the beach with someone who appears to be a friend, both maskless.
“I think she’s a big… hypocrite, actually, and I’m sick and tired of listening to her telling everyone else what to do, and here we have the evidence that she had travelled from Freemans Bay to go and visit with her friend on the beach at Judges Bay in Parnell,” Collins said.
“That’s about 5km, and unless she ran there – and I doubt it – then she wasn’t exercising. No masks on, sitting there on the beach, and the friend goes off for a swim. I watched that video, and I thought: big… hypocrite.
“I’m so sick of her telling us all what to do. She’s not doing it? Just do it… If those TV stations have her back on telling everyone what to do, I think we should just turn them off.”
Dr Wiles responded to inquiries from The BFD which reported on the video, saying: “I was with someone from my bubble, who lives in the area… Judges Bay is about 5km from my home which is pretty local when on a bicycle.”
Dr Bloomfield said he received an explanation from Dr Wiles.
“I’ve had a message from Siouxsie who described what happened. From what she told me, it didn’t sound like protocols were breached, and I don’t think that the person who went into the water what they did could be described as a swim,” he said.
“I know Siouxsie quite well and, like me, she has got a bit of a public profile, and so there’s often – when these things happen – speculation and interest in them, so she reached out to me to just explain to me objectively what had happened.”
Dr Bloomfield told Newshub it’s OK under alert level 4 to cycle 5km from your home with someone from your bubble and not be wearing a mask.
“Yes, it is,” he said. “The Prime Minister has earlier talked about, if you are keeping well away from other people and you’re undertaking exercise on the more vigorous side, yes that is fine.”
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson added: “You’ve heard from Dr Bloomfield the explanation that’s been given and everyone should follow the rules.”