4 May 2020

No exemptions from border rules given on compassionate grounds

6:54 pm on 4 May 2020

None of the travellers returning to New Zealand to see a family member who is close to dying have been allowed out of managed isolation.

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Photo: 123rf.com

Figures provided to RNZ suggest 24 people have applied for an exemption to visit someone dying or close to dying and all have been turned down.

In some cases the traveller was still in isolation when their relative died.

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About 50 other people who applied for an exemption from the mandatory 14-day isolation on other compassionate grounds were also rejected.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has spoken of needing to avoid a "double tragedy" if a traveller were to spread the virus.

The Ministry of Health said the border rules could be "very distressing" but it was taking a precautionary approach.

Among those turned down for a dispensation from managed isolation were two sisters from Melbourne who spoke to RNZ last week about travelling to be with their dying mother.

Officials have been looking at the controls as the country moves toward level 2 and what could be put in place to manage the risk.

Since border controls were tightened 28 March, 6355 travellers have been required to stay in managed isolation in Auckland hotels and quarantine facilities, paid for by the government.

About half have completed their isolation.

Of the total, 296 have applied for an exemption from having their isolation managed this way, and 29 have been granted.

Exemptions granted:

  • 16 on medical grounds
  • 5 medivacs - unwell people going straight to hospital
  • 1 exceptional circumstances (left managed isolation 16 hours early to get transport)
  • 2 transit (collecting children and leaving the country)
  • 2 unaccompanied minors (parent or guardian joining them in managed isolation)
  • 2 essential worker exemptions
  • 1 extradition (to isolate in prison rather than a hotel)

However, during a media briefing after her Cabinet meeting this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told media 18 of 24 requests where a relative was dying had been accepted.

"Information that I've received from the Ministry of Health, though, sets out that there were 283 requests for an exemption to the conditions of isolation having been received by 30 April, and that 24 exemptions was sought in cases where relative was dying or close to dying, of which 18 were granted.

"That does suggest that there has been due consideration. That is advice I've received from the Ministry of Health, but I'm sure that they will be reflecting on this judgment."

Questioned about the discrepancy, the Ministry said the Prime Minister's figures were incorrect, and no exemptions had been granted for compassionate reasons.

"The layout of Ministry of Health figures supplied to the Prime Minister's Office may have contributed to confusion over compassionate exemptions. The Ministry sincerely apologises for this.

"As of 30 April, the number of requests from a returned traveller, or travellers, for an exemption to the conditions of their isolation totalled 283. The number of those requests for exemptions granted was 18.

"To the same date, the number of 'compassionate' or similar requests for exemptions totalled 73. The number of these where this was to visit a relative dying or close to dying totalled 24. None of those 24 exemptions were granted."

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