Ministry of Health ‘reviewing procedures’ for compassionate and exceptional quarantine rules

There was confusion between the Prime Minister and Ministry of Health yesterday after a court judgment was released that found the Ministry of Health should not have refused leave for a man to leave Covid quarantine to see his dying father – see Court rules man under Covid quarantine can visit dying father.

Both the PM and MoH gave assurances procedures would be reviewed after confusion between them over numbers of people granted compassionate of exceptional exemptions – 18 had applied but it turned out the be none had been granted.

RNZ: No exemptions from border rules given on compassionate grounds

None of the travellers returning to New Zealand to see a family member who is close to dying have been allowed out of managed isolation.

Figures provided to RNZ suggest 24 people have applied for an exemption to visit someone dying or close to dying and all have been turned down.

In some cases the traveller was still in isolation when their relative died.

About 50 other people who applied for an exemption from the mandatory 14-day isolation on other compassionate grounds were also rejected.

The Ministry of Health said the border rules could be “very distressing” but it was taking a precautionary approach.

It looks like it has been more than ‘precautionary’.

However, during a media briefing after her Cabinet meeting this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told media 18 of 24 requests where a relative was dying had been accepted.

“Information that I’ve received from the Ministry of Health, though, sets out that there were 283 requests for an exemption to the conditions of isolation having been received by 30 April, and that 24 exemptions was sought in cases where relative was dying or close to dying, of which 18 were granted.

“That does suggest that there has been due consideration. That is advice I’ve received from the Ministry of Health, but I’m sure that they will be reflecting on this judgment.”

Questioned about the discrepancy, the Ministry said the Prime Minister’s figures were incorrect, and no exemptions had been granted for compassionate reasons.

“The layout of Ministry of Health figures supplied to the Prime Minister’s Office may have contributed to confusion over compassionate exemptions. The Ministry sincerely apologises for this.

“As of 30 April, the number of requests from a returned traveller, or travellers, for an exemption to the conditions of their isolation totalled 283. The number of those requests for exemptions granted was 18.

“To the same date, the number of ‘compassionate’ or similar requests for exemptions totalled 73. The number of these where this was to visit a relative dying or close to dying totalled 24. None of those 24 exemptions were granted.”

NZ Herald: Judge overrules lockdown, allows son to visit dying father

Speaking at her post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said authorities needed to make sure “we learn” from the Christiansen and other rulings.

It appeared the response to his application was an automotive response, so it was her expectation the Ministry of Health would take the ruling into consideration.

‘Automotive response may be a typo, it doesn’t make sense. Does it mean automatic? That’s what was suggested in the judgment. That would be an awful way to deal with compassionate or exceptional circumstances. Or unemotive?

Stuff:  Jacinda Ardern asks for review of all cases where family members were denied permission to visit relatives

“The Prime Minister has spoken to the Minister of Health this evening and asked that each of these cases now be reviewed in light of the Court’s ruling.”

That will be too late in cases where people have already died.

The Ministry of Health would not comment on whether it had apologised to the Christiansen family.

Instead, the spokeswoman said each request for leave from isolation on compassionate grounds or exceptional reasons is considered on its individual merits.

“The fact that the Court decided to intervene in this case does not mean that it would take the same approach in respect of other decisions by the Ministry not to allow leave from isolation.”

She said the Ministry is reviewing its processes for considering requests for leave on compassionate grounds and exceptional reasons to prevent this issue arising again.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield is speaking about this on RNZ now and is explaining and defending the way the Ministry of Health has dealt with requests.

Ashley Bloomfield, the Director-General of Health, tells Morning Report that every case is considered individually, not automatically.

Dr Bloomfield says he spoke with the team who run the process and told them to carefully consider the man’s application.

Dr Bloomfield does not know how many people had now died in the 24 cases but assured a quick review of the cases.

The RNZ interview:

Update – RNZ report: Ashley Bloomfield defends staff after judge overturns quarantine decision

There were 283 requests for exemptions to 30 April, and of those 24 were on compassionate or similar grounds. None of those on compassionate grounds were granted, Bloomfield said.

But the High Court ruling didn’t mean the team had failed to apply the criteria, he said.

“What the staff do is they apply the criteria and look at all the information they have objectively and fairly … and with great empathy. They don’t just say this is a no, they have to – and they do – look through the information very carefully.

“What the judge was saying is that they didn’t feel from the information that was presented that it was obvious that that process had been followed.”

The decisions on mandatory isolation also had to be fair, and in line with the process for people applying to travel within the country.

“That has very strict criteria and many New Zealanders will know of people who during the lockdown in alert level 4 were unable to either attend funerals or visit dying relatives because we were on a really clear pathway to try and stop the transmission of Covid-19 in our communities to protect everybody.”