Coronavirus: Community leaders criticise home isolation checks after man dies alone in apartment block

There are criticisms of the care a COVID-19-positive man who died alone in an apartment building on Wednesday was receiving.

He was living in emergency accommodation, where dozens of unvaccinated children also live.

His death was reported by the Ministry of Health on Wednesday evening after he was found dead by a family member visiting them at a Manukau address earlier in the day. He tested positive for COVID-19 on October 24 and had been isolating at home with public health oversight.

His exact cause of death is yet to be determined.

Residents say the apartment block is emergency or temporary accommodation. Many families with young unvaccinated children live there and not many residents knew anything about a person with COVID-19 isolating in one of the rooms.

Resident Jeremy, who lived on the same floor as the COVID case, has a two-month-old baby.

"When you have a baby, you just don't worry about anything else, you just worry about your baby's safety," he says.

"Bro, after this we're out of here."

Another resident, Nadia Thompson, says she's worried after finding out about the man's death.

"We're just going to go drop our little underage cousins off because we don't want them to stay here anymore," she says.

Berlina Toeke is also concerned about the death in her apartment building.

"It's pretty scary knowing that COVID is in the building. Any of us could catch it. It's pretty weird. And there's only two elevators."

The Ministry of Health has said people in home isolation are checked on regularly via email, and there's a follow-up phone call if they don't reply to the email.

Manukau Ward Councillor Efeso Collins says few in his community use email regularly. 

"This just goes to show that the Ministry of Health don't have the necessary community intelligence so that they can connect and engage with our community adequately," he says.

The public health assessment for home isolation includes checking if the positive case has phone and internet access, enough supplies like food and cleaning products, and checking if they would like to isolate at home. 

"Of course it's problematic. We would all like to be looked after at home," says New Zealand Medical Association chairperson Dr Alistair Humphrey.

The Ministry of Health says a medical assessment is also undertaken, but Dr Humphrey says that should be the first thing that's done. 

"Clinical issues should take primacy over whether someone can be looked after at home or not."

Those busy packaging up food for the vulnerable with COVID-19 in home isolation have additional concerns. They say there's no physical assessment of the houses where cases stay.

"Our biggest concern is around the suitability of the home and also around the elements of overcrowding," says The Fono CEO Tevita Funaki.

"Most of our families that we [support] have positive cases. They're living with multiple generations within their homes."

Funaki says isolating at home in an overcrowded house doesn't make sense - it's that simple.

The Health Ministry refused to say when health officials last had contact with the case, citing an investigation. 

The Northern Region Health Coordination Centre says a review of the public health and clinical oversight of the case is underway.