Woman stranded in MIQ hotel after exemption to attend brother's funeral denied after flight from Australia

Victoria Hemmingson with her younger sister and older brother Jaymz, whose funeral she travelled to NZ to attend.
Victoria Hemmingson with her younger sister and older brother Jaymz, whose funeral she travelled to NZ to attend. Photo credit: Supplied

A woman who flew from Australia to attend her brother's tangi is devastated after being refused the chance to attend the service, despite making it clear to officials who granted her an emergency allocation that's why she was coming.

Victoria Hemmingson, 23, will on Saturday be forced to watch a livestream of the Christchurch funeral alone from her Auckland hotel room, hundreds of kilometres away.

The Melbourne resident had left her children with her grandparents to come to New Zealand, getting on the earliest flight she could after managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) officials accepted an urgent request to let her in the country on compassionate grounds.

But after her arrival, Hemmingson was whisked away to an MIQ facility in Auckland CBD and her application for an exemption for a temporary release to attend the funeral was denied because it required her to travel from the North to the South Island.

'It's really traumatising'

The rejection is a hammer blow for Hemmingson after her brother Jaymz's death last week, which followed a years-long battle with atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS), a rare kidney disease.

She and Jaymz were extremely close growing up, having been only a year apart in age, and she's devastated she'll be in isolation while family members are together sending him off.

"It's really traumatising," she told Newshub.

Hemmingson says she contacted MIQ before she flew in from Australia, explaining that her brother had died and she was travelling here to attend the tangi.

Officials requested proof of Jaymz's death and his funeral, and subsequently gave her an emergency allocation. She made arrangements to catch a flight to Auckland when rooms were released.

Just a year apart in age, Victoria and Jaymz were close growing up.
Just a year apart in age, Victoria and Jaymz were close growing up. Photo credit: Supplied

However she says officials told her she wasn't able to apply for a compassionate exemption from MIQ until she was on New Zealand soil.

She was told this was less likely to be accepted if there was a large group of people, so Hemmingson came by herself, with the rest of her family - including her children - staying behind in Melbourne.

"Before I left I thought 'if I'm clear of COVID and I'm fully vaccinated and I'm a New Zealand citizen, I'm sure I shouldn't have to isolate, and if I do I could isolate at my mum's [house] where the funeral was', because it's not a big funeral," she said.

"They knew then that there was only going to be a small amount of people [at the funeral], but there was no way I was able to go through the application until I stepped foot into New Zealand."

As soon as her plane landed on the tarmac in Auckland, she sent her application for a temporary release from MIQ.

"I was standing in the entranceway of the plane, sorting it out to make sure that when I got to the border, that it was already there and that I could speak to someone [to see] if they could speed up the process," Hemmingson said.

"And the lady told me that just because I was in an emergency [MIQ spot] didn't mean I was going to make the emergency. And I was like, 'well, what was the point of me being accepted for an emergency [MIQ spot] if I wasn't going to make it?'"

She was ordered to go to her hotel with all the other passengers on her flight, and called her MIQ contacts once she was in her room. She requested that she'd be put on the last flight to Christchurch on Thursday, and waited for their response.

But when the new day rolled around, it was bad news.

"After considering your circumstances and all of the information you have provided, I have determined that your application is declined for a temporary release. You are required to complete 7 days in one of our managed isolation facilities," a letter from MIQ read.

It went on to explain that a key factor in the decision was that she was requesting inter-island travel.

"As travelling between the North and South Islands requires either flights or ferry transport, the risk to public health is deemed to be too high to consider early release where this is a factor.

"We do know that this is extremely disappointing at an individual level but we must put the health and well-being of all New Zealanders at the forefront of every decision we make."

Newshub contacted MIQ for comment, but a spokesperson said the letter explained the decision to reject Hemmingson's request adequately.

'I came here to attend a funeral in a hotel room'

Hemmingson says after being pushed back a few days already to give her more time to get to Christchurch, the funeral will go ahead on Saturday in her absence.

"It's going to go ahead because they can't leave him out any longer - they've tried. And I think it's just selfish to have him out as long as he has been."

She says she wouldn't have bothered coming to New Zealand if she'd known her exemption would be rejected.

She requested to leave MIQ the day she learned the news, but was told even if she were only going to go straight back to the airport and home to Australia, she would still need to spend seven days isolating.

"For me to be accepted for the emergency allocation, I had to prove that [my brother and I] were related, I had to prove that he had passed away, I had to prove that the service was happening on a certain date," she said.

"I did that. I called everybody and anybody that I could to get all the information that they needed to accept me... So I just really don't understand why they'd let me come over for this emergency, but not even let me go to the emergency."

Hemmingson says she's tried to escalate her application once it was rejected, but has run into a wall every time.

She doesn't understand why she doesn't meet the criteria for a temporary release, as her situation is critical, and doesn't believe she's high-risk to New Zealand as she's fully vaccinated, has had COVID-19 in the past and recently returned a negative test.

Hemmingson is now waiting until her seven days' isolation is up before seeing whether she can travel to Christchurch to see her grieving family and her brother's ashes, or immediately fly back to Melbourne to be with her children.

But for today, she has no choice but to tune in on Zoom from isolation in Auckland CBD to farewell her brother for one final time.

"I came here to attend a funeral in a hotel room, when I could have just done it at home."