Coronavirus: Local employee in NZ High Commission in India dies from COVID-19

Coronavirus: Local employee in NZ High Commission in India dies from COVID-19
Photo credit: Getty Images.

A staff member at the NZ High Commission in India has died from COVID-19, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

Mahuta told reporters on Tuesday the employee was not a New Zealander, but had been working within the commission since 1986 and supported Sir Edmund Hillary during his tenure as High Commissioner in India.

She said she is "deeply saddened" by the death and her thoughts are with the person's family. The employee died on Sunday, the minister said. 

"Any loss of life is extremely sad, and I know that the MFAT whanau will be grieving at this time, and they need time to process what has happened," Mahuta said.

"New Zealand truly values and supports the work that he gave to subsequent heads of mission, New Zealand staff, and our country."

Another six High Commission staffers have COVID-19. While Mahuta believes none of these people are New Zealanders, she is seeking confirmation of that. None are in critical condition, to her knowledge.

Earlier in May, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a worker at the High Commisson was "very unwell".

It followed a plea on social media by the commission for oxygen. New Zealand later apologised for that, saying the mission used the wrong channel to ask for support.

"The reason that [the High Commission] apologised is because they've openly acknowledged that they had ways and means, through the Government, that they could access support," Ardern told The AM Show at the time.

"Ultimately, the cause for that call [was] they do have a very unwell local staff member. In India, we have a New Zealand compound - it will include both New Zealand staff seconded into India but it will also include some local employees."

The minister believes New Zealand supported the man as best as it could.

"Within their care, they did as much as they could do. While they used the wrong channels, they did as much as they could to ensure his care could be provided," Mahuta said on Tuesday.

She continues to say New Zealand is not in a position to undertake repatriation flights.

India has become a major COVID-19 hotspot, with hundreds of thousands of cases being recorded there every day and thousands of deaths. Hospitals have struggled to get key supplies, like oxygen, and communities have been forced to conduct mass burials.