COVID-19: Why 55 New Zealanders were granted compassionate exemptions

The Ministry of Health (MoH) has revealed the grounds on which 55 New Zealanders were granted compassionate exemptions to leave managed isolation and visit dying relatives.

Deputy chief executive for the ministry's COVID-19 response Keriana Brooking said on Wednesday 34 people were allowed to attend a funeral or grieve with family, but they had to either return to a quarantine facility or self-isolate in an agreed location. A further 16 applications were granted for people who wanted to isolate with family members who were close to dying, four were granted day-leave from quarantine to see a dying family member, and one person could leave their isolation facility because they were terminally ill.

"These groups of people were granted exemption from managed isolation for exceptional circumstances. As part of leaving managed isolation, all signed a health release that required them to follow a set of protocols depending on the category of exemption. These protocols were dependent on the type of exemption, and of course personalised to individual situations," Brooking said.

These protocols include taking a COVID-19 test at a community-based assessment centre, wearing personal protective equipment around the dying family member and not leaving their vehicles while travelling from managed isolation to the agreed address.

It was revealed on Tuesday by the MoH 51 of the 55 people were allowed to leave managed isolation before taking a COVID-19 test. 

Brooking confirmed two people were tested before leaving and two were tested the day they left isolation. A further 35 people took a test after they'd left quarantine. All 39 tests have returned a negative result.

Eleven people won't be tested for either medical reasons, because they're children or they've left the country, three are waiting for their results and one person who's had a test hasn't been in contact with MoH. She said this person has been referred to enforcement services.

A large number of applications were given approval before conditions were changed on June 9, she said, which was when leave could no longer be granted without a negative test or at least a week in managed isolation.

"We had a large number that were approved that weren't related to compassionate grounds and a large number were people who completed seven days and returned a negative test.

"We had quite a strict set of protocols for infection prevention control that were wrapped around those applications. Not every application that had come in before the announcement was approved."

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said of the 2159 people in total that left managed isolation between June 9 and 16, 1010 people had tested negative, 239 are waiting on test results, 791 are still being contacted, and 119 won't be tested for health reasons or they've refused.

He said no one can be forced to take a test once they're released from managed isolation unless there's reason to believe they have COVID-19, but he so far doesn't believe any of them are infected.