Grieving families distraught over inconsistencies in Government's COVID-19 alert level 2 rules

Watch Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien's report. Credit: Newshub

Grieving families are distraught over inconsistencies with the COVID-19 alert level 2 rules, baffled that the Government will trust people to go to the movies, gyms and malls but not to farewell friends and whānau. 

Kiwis will be privy to a whole lot of new freedoms on Thursday when the level 2 rules come into play, but it won't bring satisfaction to the family of Southland man Maurice Skinner, who passed away last week, three months before his 90th birthday. 

A former jockey and racing trainer, Maurice Skinner was a well-known Southland figure, and a funeral could've drawn hundreds. But his family just wanted a small private service - 21 people - so they delayed until alert level 2. 

But holding off has left them disappointed because the level 2 rules don't allow it. 

"We can't even do that now, so we're absolutely devastated," his daughter told Newshub. "One of the worst things you can stop people doing is being able to farewell their loved ones."

Under level 2 there's a cap on gatherings - no more than 10 people. And yet, up to 100 people could be in a gym, a restaurant or the movies, as long as they're socially-distanced. 

"We know this is causing pain but we equally have tried to be really consistent," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday. 

But it doesn't feel consistent for grieving families. 

"The Government is telling us we need to be kind but where on earth is the kindness in that? It's actually inhumane," Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker told Newshub. 

One woman Newshub spoke to who didn't want to be identified also lost someone very close to her last week, and said to find out on Monday that the gathering number was dropped to 10 "did cause a lot of grief in our family". 

"It's just heartbreaking... and still no clearer."

The Prime Minister says the rules are the rules because at funerals and tangi the urge to physically comfort others is too risky. 

"The idea that we would force people to not be able to support one another, to comfort one another, is equally a very hard thing to comprehend."

Those in mourning want the Government to trust them. 

The woman Newshub spoke to anonymously is from a family of medical professionals including a COVID-19 nurse, and they know full-well how to manage the risks. 

"We can be responsible with our loved ones and the people that are around us - just give us the benefit of the doubt," she said. 

Funeral directors Tipene Funerals say some families have been waiting to mourn since before the alert level 4 lockdown - and now face further devastating delays. 

Kaoira Tipene said clients will have to consider "whether they will hold another two weeks so they can have a large gathering".

Fancis Tipene added, "I'm advising people to have their service, to not make your loved ones wait any longer."

Because there's still no certainty when they will be allowed, and even within Government there is no real certainty about what the rules even are. 

"It's possible to go to a function after the funeral to a hall and sit down with 100 people spaced properly," Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said. "Not at the funeral itself but at the wake - they could organise that."

Peters suggesting a wake of up to 100 people is allowed at level 2, while the Prime Minister had a completely different view. 

"What we don't want is for them all to come together at a conclusion, so a large wake or a large gathering afterwards," Ardern said. 

Newshub asked the Prime Minister if her Cabinet fully understands the rules. 

"You've heard me clearly outline them," she said. "This is only intended, we hope, to be a very short period."

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