A man who was unable to attend his grandmother's funeral because his travel exemption application was approved just 15 minutes before the service began has been offered an apology by Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
The Auckland resident, who asked not to be named, lost his grandmother on Wednesday last week, which he learned about while at work on Thursday.
On Friday morning, at 5.09am, he applied for an exemption to pass through the Auckland border to drive south to the funeral, which was on Tuesday at 1pm.
In the title of the request, he included ‘recently deceased’ as suggested by the COVID website.
Aside from the automatic response generated when he applied for the exemption, he did not hear anything back until 12:45pm today - 15 minutes before the funeral was to begin.
The response approved his travel, but only for returning back into Auckland and not to exit - despite his request clearly stating he needed to leave Auckland.
But it was too late. To travel the distance he says he would have needed at least a day's warning in order to make it with the energy a funeral requires.
"The exemption was easy enough to apply for, and I didn’t mind having to request it, I just felt like it shouldn’t take 4 days for it to be processed," he told Newshub.
"Especially as it was clear in the title that it was to go to a funeral, which the website suggested doing so that the request could be ‘prioritised’.
"It was more annoying that, when the ‘exemption’ was granted, it was an exemption to drive into Auckland, not out of Auckland, which I felt was clear in the request."
He says the delay in response has lost him the chance to properly grieve and say goodbye, and he would have liked to be there to support his parents.
In response, when Newshub told Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield about the ramifications of the delayed response, he offered insight into upgrading processes and an apology.
"Our exemption team is working as quickly as possible on them, and in fact, we were reinforced yesterday with another twenty people who came from other government agencies, we're absolutely prioritising those urgent requests that relate to visiting dying relatives or attending funerals or tangihanga, so in that very case, I'm very sorry if we missed the deadline there that might have been short, but I know the team is very focused on getting those and I'm turning them around and signing them off regularly throughout the day," he told Newshub.
The man said it was reassuring to hear that more people have been added to the exemption process.
"It is clear that the team granting them was unprepared for the volume of requests they have received."
More than 10,000 applications for an exemption to Auckland's border controls have been received. As of Sunday, 1400 have been approved and 300 declined.
The Ministry of Health previously promised urgent exemptions, for example, to visit a dying relative, are prioritised and dealt with promptly.
The man believes it is important the exemptions process exists, and that people granted exemptions are properly vetted to ensure a plan is made that is safe for those they may interact with.
With the matter now behind him, he suggests a solution to help processes could be creating an online form to fill out, as opposed to sending in an email with all the information required by the government to make an assessment.
"Creating an online form to fill out… might make it easier to process."