MoH quarantine exemption reviews – 5 decisions reversed but still “it’s breaking my heart”

After the High Court overruled a Ministry of Health refusal to give an exemption to a man in Covid managed isolation (quarantine) to see his dying father the Ministry reviewed other applications that had been made, and upheld about half of them but reversed their decision for five people.

The review found that in all cases when applying the same process they had used the first time the new team came to the same conclusions as the original decisions – but the Court found that this process was flawed so I don’t know why they wasted time reviewing cases based on a flawed process.

Results of 32 case reviews when applying ‘the updated criteria’ (as determined by the Court):

  • 5 people had the original decision to decline their application was changed (they were able to leave managed isolation and have an agreed self-isolation plan)
  • 2 people had already finished managed isolation when reviews began (no indication if the original decisions were wrong)
  • 1 person had withdrawn their application (no indication why, perhaps their relative had died)
  • 14 people had their original decision upheld and will be required to complete their 14-day managed isolation
  • 10 people have been asked to provide further information (5 are still overseas and yet to travel to New Zealand).

Six people having their decisions reversed (1 via the Court and 5 after review) is a big deal for those people, and the delays wil have been stressful.

The Ministry says they continue to receive a large number of new applications for an exemption from managed isolation from people arriving in New Zealand, and these are being processed according to the new criteria. As they should be.

Ministry of Health: Statement on exemption reviews

The Ministry of Health has completed the review of 32 applications made for an exemption from managed isolation on compassionate grounds that had previously been declined.

We undertook this review following the High Court case last week that overturned one such decision to ensure that the appropriate process had been followed for other similar applications for exemption.

In parallel, the Ministry of Health updated the exemptions application process and criteria to ensure these are explicit and take into account the findings of the High Court judgement.

The applications were all reviewed by a separate team based in the National Crisis Management Centre. When applying the same process used by the Ministry of Health, this team reached the same conclusions as the original decisions.

The review, using the updated criteria, has yielded (results as detailed above).

We acknowledge that this will be a difficult time for people who are required to stay in managed isolation and we continue to provide support to them.

Protecting the border from COVID-19 remains a top priority as part of New Zealand’s overall elimination strategy and we will continue to look very carefully at any request for an exemption from managed isolation.

It’s a shame it took court action to get the exemption criteria changed but at least it is being dealt with better now.

The court determined that the original criteria was not properly allowing for exceptional circumstances. Counsel for the man who won the court case, Oliver Christiansen, stated:

There is a strong case that had the respondent applied the Health Act Order correctly, Mr Christiansen’s circumstances would be recognised as coming within one or both of the exemption categories: either compassionate grounds with a low risk of transmission, or exceptional circumstances.

It is difficult to comprehend what other situations would suffice to meet these categories if the present applicant’s circumstances do not.

The judge agreed:

A rigid policy that does not include exceptional circumstances, especially where the empowering law provides for those exceptions, is the antithesis of what was intended under the Order, objectively read.

In my judgment, this exceptional case demands an effective and swift response by the Court to achieve overall justice.

Requiring the respondent to permit Mr Christiansen to leave Managed Isolation prior to the end of his 14-day isolation period at the Central City facility for the purposes of visiting his terminally ill father.

The original criteria used by the Ministry must have ignored or insufficiently taken into account compassionate grounds or exception circumstances.

But it looks like the problems aren’t over for everyone – Kiwi in quarantine pleads with government to see his dying wife one last time:

A Christchurch man is pleading for government officials to exempt him from quarantine so that he can see his dying wife one last time.

Mining contractor Bernie Ryan returned from Australia on Sunday after his wife Christine Taylor’s condition worsened.

He is currently under managed isolation at a hotel in Auckland, and said despite showing no illness symptoms and a letter of support from his GP, the Ministry of Health has repeatedly refused his request for exemption.

Taylor has terminal lung cancer and has been given hours to live.

“When I departed [for Australia] to go to work, my wife was unwell but she was making progress,” Ryan said.

Taylor was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago.

“But anyway, things turned for the worst and I was luckily able to get a flight from Brisbane to Auckland, knowing that I would have the two-week stand down before I could get back to Christchurch,” Ryan said.

Ryan first applied for an exemption on the day he arrived in Auckland.

He said he was willing to travel with Personal Protective Equipment and maintain physical distancing.

“I applied for an exemption because of my circumstances and it took two days to get a reply back, which I think is standard, [and] they refused me,” he said.

“And then I tried again straight away via the health department [Ministry of Health] representative in the hotel, he sent it off to his co-ordinator who had said if there were special circumstances to send it through to him, and it was obviously agreed I had special circumstances.”

Ryan said he waited another couple of days and received a phone call from the Ministry of Health informing him that it would be impossible for him to go to Christchurch.

He said the refusal was devastating.

“Well … I cried, and basically a friend suggested that maybe we can get in contact with the media and if not for me, for other people that may have to go through this scenario,” Ryan said.

He asked the government to show sympathy towards New Zealanders in similar situations.

“Well, I’m a proud Kiwi, we’re the best country in the world, just [show] some compassion … instead of these generic emails I’ve been getting, what about just some compassion? And not every case is the same is basically is what I’m saying,” Ryan said.

“It’s breaking my heart really.”

The Ministry of Health said Ryan would have received a letter explaining why his application has been declined, and its exemptions team will contact him to explain further.

It looks like he has gone to media as a last resort, going to court would take more time and cost money.

It sounds really tough for Mr Ryan. And it sounds like compassion does not figure much in the Ministry criteria, still.