Coronavirus: 18 allowed to leave quarantine to attend Christchurch burial, only half tested beforehand

The Health Ministry has confirmed 18 people were allowed out of quarantine to attend a burial in Christchurch - but only half were tested beforehand.

Lamb & Hayward Funeral Directors CEO, Steve Parkyn, told Newshub his staff refused the health officials' initial request to have the two groups that made up the 18 present at the funeral.

However, the group did attend. The Health Ministry told Newshub all 18 guests wore masks and observed physical distancing.  

"The two groups travelled separately to and from the burial in private vehicles.  The two staff accompanying them followed in a separate vehicle.  Both the staff and 18 guests wore masks throughout the visit," a Ministry spokesman said.

Health Ministry rules issued on June 9 stated exemptions for funerals would no longer be allowed. Also on this date, people leaving quarantine were required to return a negative test first.

The Ministry says the group got an exemption prior to the June 9 rule so they were allowed out without any testing.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the risk of letting the two groups out was managed appropriately

"There was very strict protocol," he said in a press conference. "There were two groups there - one at the end of their isolation period [who] were all tested and tested negative before they were allowed out.

"The other nine were transferred to Christchurch - very strict protocols. They watched the funeral remotely and then were escorted in two small groups very carefully out to observe the burial from a distance. Then [they went] back into managed isolation facility."

Parkyn told Newshub he was frustrated he couldn't get any information from either the DHB or the isolation unit about the status of the group, whether they'd been tested or when their exemptions had been issued.

He describes the Ministry's decision to allow the group out as "bizarre" when there was clearly a risk and 150 present at the burial.