'They let gang members in': Anger as woman blocked from attending online funeral with family

The Christchurch member of the family cannot attend the virtual funeral with family in Auckland....
The Christchurch member of the family cannot attend the virtual funeral with family in Auckland. Photo: George Heard
A Christchurch woman has been denied entry to Auckland to be with family for the funeral of her brother who died in Queensland last week.

The family says health officials have shown a lack of compassion and there is no consistency in applying border exemption rules.

"They let gang members in, Jacinda and politicians seem to come and go. I know of nurses that have entered the region to administer Botox. How is that consistent and fair?" a family member told the Herald.

The Ministry of Health declined two applications by the woman for an exemption to travel to Auckland to grieve with family members at the online funeral tomorrow.

The family, who do not want to be named, were shocked by the sudden death of a sibling last week and accept they will not be able to attend the funeral, south of Brisbane, on Thursday.

"My sister applied for an exemption to visit Auckland along with her fiance and two young kids to watch the funeral online and be surrounded and supported by family. This was declined.

"She then reapplied with just herself intending to come to Auckland, along with a letter from her doctor to support her application," one of her brothers said.

The letter said the death of the woman's brother had triggered many emotions as well as new emotions of her coming to terms with the death of a sibling, far from his family and home.

"To help [the woman] get through this challenging time, to be allowed to grieve in the presence of her family in Auckland, will be a hugely beneficial form of supportive therapy," said the doctor, adding the woman is fully vaccinated and only intends to be at the family home in Auckland.

The ministry declined the second application based on the information and criteria for being granted a personal travel exemption: whether travel can be delayed; if there is a risk to life, health or safety if the exemption is not granted; and the overall risk to public health.

The brother said the family is resigned to his sister not making it to Auckland on Thursday, saying she will be joined by two of his father's sisters who live in Christchurch and Ashburton for the online service.

"It kind of makes you angry...they talk about compassionate grounds but there doesn't seem to be any consideration around mental health. It seems very formulaic.

"Just to get a blanket email that says 'declined', that really hurts. No-one has really considered it. The ruling is based on a framework, which from my perspective, is broken.

"A lot of other families are probably fighting the same challenges as us," the brother said.

He said having been through two online funerals in the past week he found it more traumatic than being present because when you attend a funeral you want to put your arms around loved ones and people who are struggling.

"When you are watching it through streaming you kind of can't. You watch it and feel present but it is so hard to give support and strength to others," he said.

The Ministry of Health would not comment on the woman's case, but a spokeswoman said exemptions are only granted in exceptional circumstances, on a case-by-case basis, and only where this is consistent with the wider public health response to Covid-19.

"As a general rule, we take a highly cautious and prudent approach to exemption requests," she said, saying each trip into or out of Auckland provides a potential vector for the virus.

As of 8am today, the spokeswoman said, the ministry had received 33,045 requests for an exemption for personal reasons. Of these, 9648 exemptions had been granted.

The spokeswoman said personal travel exemption requests include attending funerals and tangihanga, childcare arrangements or visiting terminally ill people.

The ministry acknowledged the significant inconvenience, and difficulty, caused by the alert level boundaries. But border controls had served us well, and remained crucial stopping further spread of Covid-19, she said.

- By Bernard Orsman

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