GRIEVING Malcolm Mitchell was prevented from attending his father’s funeral in Invercargill this week because of what he says is an inhuman Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) process.
Mr Mitchell has lived in Melbourne for the past 34 years and has taken annual trips home to visit his family in Invercargill. His last trip to the south was a brief one in May 2021 to visit his parents who were experiencing failing health.
After his December 29 plans to travel home were cancelled, he applied for an exemption on December 30 as the next MIQ room release was not until January 6.
As Mr Mitchell shared his situation with Westland Mayor Bruce Smith via a Zoom call, he said, “I’ve been looking at ways to get over for the funeral. It’s been hard. It’s really been impossible to get over there.
“It seems the Prime Minister who has touted herself a compassionate person and the Government has no compassion for New Zealand citizens wanting to attend close family members’ funerals and just don’t get the difference between a family funeral and wanting to walk the Milford Track, one can wait but the other has a time restriction and is deeply personal,” he said in online comments to Mr Smith.
“I am prepared to have tests before coming over but this doesn’t seem to matter as the Government wants to lock us up in a facility where there is an unacceptable risk of potential Covid-19 transmission,” he said.
In response to his MIQ exemption application, he only ever received generic and nameless emails which did not fully address his situation.
The responding email says, “…we are unlikely to approve applications under the exceptional circumstances category to attend a funeral or tangihanga where there may be multiple people gathered. This would create an unacceptable risk of potential Covid-19 transmission.”
Mr Mitchell said the response was like “salt in the wound” as it came at the same time the news of a DJ infected with the omicron variant was granted entry into the country to attend a music festival.
“That really made my blood boil. The Government aren’t being upfront with us here.
“It hurts when they are letting other non-citizens in as essential workers.”
He recognises his situation is not unique.
“I feel for others that can’t go to their parents’ funerals. I feel for others that are stranded overseas who can’t get back to New Zealand.”
However, in his return emails he had asked for some direction and “compassion in the system” on how he could support his family and attend the funeral to be a pallbearer, while still fulfilling quarantine entry obligations.
He believed his dealings with staff via email proved to be more obstructive than helpful and lacked compassion.
“That response I got was pretty cold. They’ve made it clear they are not going to let someone in for a funeral.”
He said people in Australia had not always been given access to all the MIQ room allocations.
“They’re not trying to help people get back to New Zealand at all. They said before Christmas they can’t stop New Zealand citizens from coming back to New Zealand, but it seems they are making it harder and harder. And they’re certainly not providing any compassion for exceptional circumstances.”
The Southland Express received copies of the email correspondence between Mr Mitchell and the MIQ Isolation Exemptions Team. MIQ emails were unsigned, contained generic information and consistently referred Mr Mitchell to the MIQ website. No alternative point of contact was provided.
The emails advised, “please contact us when you have arrived in NZ and are in isolation, if you still require an exemption. If your application is declined, you must complete the mandatory isolation period in one of our managed isolation facilities…”
But the following paragraph explained to access the country he needed to have a managed isolation voucher before flying, which had been denied.
Despite Mr Mitchell’s application being declined, the MIQ website says: “New Zealand citizens who have suffered a bereavement of a close relative in New Zealand are able to enter the country.”
Eighteen days passed between the death of his father shortly before Christmas and when the funeral took place.
MIQ requires people entering the country from Australia to quarantine for 10 days.
He felt like he was in a “catch-22 situation” where he was unable to book flights home without an MIQ voucher and denied having an MIQ voucher issued to him.
On December 30, Mr Mitchell wrote to MIQ: “When I apply to MIQ I need to provide flight details… when I call Air New Zealand I’m told I need to book MIQ first…”
Despite being double vaccinated, during his interactions with MIQ he was never asked about his vaccination status or asked to undergo any PCR or other tests.
He believes the New Zealand Government is failing by not providing a road map to move out of its present situation.
“I can understand lockdowns and restrictions in 2020 when Covid was unknown and vaccinations were not available but locking down the country in late 2021 will have a dire effect on mental health and the economy. The delta strain has already been let into New Zealand and I think it will only be a matter of time before omicron gets into the community.”
The Southland Express contacted MIQ managers, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment media communications team, who confirmed via phone 800 rooms are made available each month for emergency allocations.
They requested any questions to be made via email.
The team had yet to respond to the email, sent on January 11, at the time the Southland Express went to print.