31 Jan 2022

MIQ for pregnancy: Growing calls to prioritise rooms for expectant mums

7:32 pm on 31 January 2022

A New Zealander in Australia was forced to care for her premature baby in hospital alone after her multiple attempts at securing an emergency Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) room were rejected.

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File image. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

There are growing calls to prioritise emergency MIQ spots for pregnant New Zealanders who want to return from overseas.

They have been prompted by the plight of Charlotte Bellis - a pregnant New Zealand citizen stuck in Afghanistan after being denied an emergency allocated room.

RNZ has agreed not to name another woman who decided to return from Australia to give birth when she discovered she was pregnant last year.

"It was always the plan to go home, give birth and stay in New Zealand where I had all of my family as I don't have any support here at all. So that was always the plan," the woman said.

Getting home became even more urgent when she developed serious complications, she told RNZ.

After trying and failing to secure an MIQ spot in the lottery system 10 times, she applied for an emergency exemption.

Her application included about 13 supporting documents from organisations like Plunket and Royal Australian and the New Zealand College of Obstetricians which warned her pregnancy was high risk and that her baby might need assistance after birth, she said.

Her application was denied twice because she wanted to travel on a date outside the 14-day window for emergency spots.

She told RNZ her case was appealed and escalated to the High Court, but by that point in her pregnancy she was advised not to fly.

She gave birth in Australia and described the experience as traumatising.

"I definitely needed family support around me. I mean, when your baby is in hospital for a long period of time, to do that without any family support is just cruel.

"It just feels like New Zealand has turned its back on its own citizens."

Tarandeep Singh and his pregnant partner are stuck in India, having travelled there in December to visit family for the first time in five years.

They thought they would be able to skip MIQ and isolate at home upon their return, but since the government delayed its re-opening plans because of Omicron, their only option has been to apply for an emergency MIQ spot.

Despite his partner being 30 weeks pregnant the couple's request had been rejected, Singh said.

Officials wanted proof of a scheduled medical procedure in New Zealand, he said.

With the Omicron variant sweeping across India, Singh was worried about what would happen if his partner was forced to give birth there.

"We don't want to risk my wife and my baby's life when we already have the right to go back to our country and get it done from there."

Plunket chief executive Amanda Malu said the government should make it easier for pregnant New Zealanders to return home.

"It's just the right thing to do. I understand that there are a lot of people in various situations looking to get back home but these people are particularly vulnerable and we need to look after them."

In a statement, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins insisted there were spots in MIQ for expectant mothers.

"The emergency allocation criteria cater for a wide range of scenarios which can include specifically for an expectant mother or bringing their partner home to support them," Hipkins said.

"This includes for medical treatment if a mother is overseas and cannot get the required treatment where they are, and allowing people to urgently return to New Zealand to provide critical care for a dependent, such as their spouse or partner who is pregnant."

Head of MIQ Chris Bunny said pregnancy was not considered an emergency under the allocation criteria but certain conditions during pregnancy may mean that the high bar for an emergency was met.

"In late October 2021 MIQ looked into how we consider applications relating to pregnancy within emergency allocations. It was decided to not make any changes to existing categories in relation to pregnancy, instead it was agreed assessors and decision makers would include consideration of the unborn child when assessing and making decisions where pregnancy is part of the emergency application."

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