Woman in race against time to see mum before she dies as MIQ takes five days to ponder exemption

Maleta Main (right) with her daughter Ebony.
Maleta Main (right) with her daughter Ebony. Photo credit: Supplied

Maleta Main's mother could die at her west Auckland rest home within hours, doctors have told her.

But despite being in a hotel room just a few-dozen kilometres away, Maleta is resigned to the fact she may never get to say a final goodbye to the woman who raised her.

On Thursday morning, she woke up to her fifth day in a managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility, having made an emergency flight across the Tasman late last week when her elderly mum Catherine's condition suddenly deteriorated.

Catherine is in severe pain and doctors told her family this week she has days and possibly just hours left to live - but she's stuck it out in an apparent attempt to see her daughter one last time.

The only problem is, despite her best attempts, Maleta hasn't been able to get there. She's pleaded for an early or temporary release since the day she arrived in MIQ, but even though they had promised to look into it urgently, her application has been dogged by delays spanning several days.

After Newshub made enquiries with MIQ, they agreed to let Maleta out for four hours on Friday. Her temporary release will come six days after she first made her application and just a day prior to when she would've been allowed to leave without an exemption.

'We're lucky she's held in there'

The discovery that she'll be let out temporarily brings an end to agonising uncertainty for Maleta and her family after days of desperately contacting MIQ for updates on her application.

Maleta was told by MIQ staff on Thursday that she would be allowed to leave her central Auckland facility for four hours between 10am and 2pm on Friday to visit her mother.

She first applied for an exemption on Saturday, but joint head of MIQ Chris Bunny says applications aren't considered until at least day 3, which for Maleta was Tuesday.

Despite being told MIQ were looking at her application urgently, Maleta had to wait a further two days until she found out the result of her application - and it'll be three days until she's actually released, with joint head of MIQ Chris Bunny saying they will give the green light once she's had her day 5/6 test on Friday.

"She's just been sitting there and hoping they're going to make a call in the next couple of hours for a yes or no," Maleta's daughter Ebony told Newshub.

"There's an email there saying that they're processing her application on an emergency basis. That was at 4pm [on Tuesday] - that's been a lot of hours [since then] when it comes to something really pressing. We're lucky Nana has held in there."

Prior to receiving an update on her exemption, Maleta told Newshub she wasn't hopeful her mum would still be alive by the time she was let out.

"I don't think she will, I really don't think she will," she said. "We're all thinking my mum is waiting for me before she passes. She's now on pain relief every half-hour and she's in a lot of pain - she just needs to be released.

"I Facetimed with her [on Wednesday]... I told her 'if you need to go, go - don't wait for me'. She's still just hanging in there, but I don't think mum will make it."

Maleta says the whole experience - the disappointment of finding out she wouldn't be let out on Tuesday, the distress of being absent from her mum's bedside, the waiting on MIQ - has been "horrendous".

"I'm constantly trying to meditate and do yoga and watch movies," she told Newshub. "In different circumstances, [staying at a luxury hotel] would be fantastic. But because of the circumstances - my mum and my family need me, I need to be there - of course it causes anxiety."

While her release won't be as soon as she'd wanted, the news has given Maleta renewed hope of seeing her mum alive one more time after she was dealt two additional cruel blows this week.

The first saw her father and Catherine's husband - who Maleta describes as the rock of the family -  rushed to hospital after a heart attack on Tuesday. Maleta suspects the pressure on him after his wife's decline had become too much to bear, and they are now crossing their fingers that he will be released from hospital before Catherine passes.

The second was being told she would be released from MIQ on Tuesday - four days before her week-long stay was up - only to realise MIQ staff had sent her the incorrect date.

Bunny apologised for the confusion but told Newshub this was because Maleta had erroneously told them she had arrived in MIQ from Australia on December 7 when she had actually got there on December 11, and staff had taken her on her word.

'MIQ has served NZ well'

Ebony told Newshub it doesn't seem like MIQ staff know what they're doing, and says she understands why some people have been so desperate that they've tried to abscond from facilities.

"There's people dying. Mum's a New Zealand resident, she's done two negative COVID tests. What's going on with their actual rules?" she said.

"Nana is going to take her last breaths any minute, so this is really horrible - and if she takes them today and MIQ could've let her out [earlier], that's honestly bullshit."

Bunny said decisions on MIQ exemptions "are not easy ones to make".

"We are sympathetic to the distressing situations people like Ms Main are in. However, we need to balance each individual application with our critical work to ensure the safety of all New Zealanders," he said.

Ebony Main says she understands why some people have been so desperate they've tried to abscond from MIQ.
Ebony Main says she understands why some people have been so desperate they've tried to abscond from MIQ. Photo credit: RNZ

"Exemptions for exceptional circumstances, such as to visit a dying relative, are only approved when the public health risk is assessed to be low. In a small number of cases, exemptions are approved for a temporary period and the applicant will need to return to the managed isolation facility to complete their managed isolation."

Bunny said MIQ acknowledges that there are "many people in really difficult situations" as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic. But he says the Government has to balance the public health needs with enabling New Zealanders to come home.

"MIQ has served New Zealand well, helping to bring more than 200,000 people home safely. We want to be able to bring everyone home who wants to return, but we have to do that in a safe, managed way," he said.

Bunny said MIQ's exemptions team work seven days a week to ensure applications are turned around as quickly as possible, and the distressing situations facing those who apply aren't ignored.

For now, Maleta's family is just hoping her release on Friday will come in time for her to see her mother one final time.