A Kiwi in managed isolation who pleaded with authorities to sit with his dying mum is now mourning her death after she passed away overnight, hours after his request was denied.
Mark Miller is devastated he will never the get the chance to be with his 80-year-old mother Joy Miller, and is calling on authorities to change how they deal with compassionate exemptions.
Miller, who returned from Singapore earlier this month and is on day 11 of mandated isolation at the Commodore Hotel in Christchurch, said all he wanted to do was be near his Nelson-based mum who was suffering from advanced dementia after her health took a turn for the worse at the weekend.
But an urgent application for an exemption from managed isolation was rebuffed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment who are in charge of granting Managed Isolation and Quarantine exemptions without reason around 4.30pm yesterday, 72 hours after it was lodged.
More bad news followed when a late-night email arrived at 12.30am informing him his mother had died.
Now all he had to treasure was the final FaceTime session the pair shared on Tuesday, heartbroken he was unable to fulfil her dying wish.
"The last thing my mother ever said to me was 'Please come home dear' - and I am stuck here," he wept over the phone from his Christchurch hotel room.
"It's such a cruel and heartless decision. The system shows no compassion or they simply don't care."
Miller, who had made plans to return to New Zealand a few months ago when his mum's health wasn't so dire, was looking forward to spending time with her in Nelson.
He had travelled here with his wife Dussadee and was looking forward to a road trip across the South Island.
While he supported the government response to eliminating Covid-19 in the community, today he was critical about the lack of consideration for people like himself who presented a zero risk to the wider community. Both he and his wife had tested negative for Covid-19 and had come from a country that was in a similar situation as New Zealand with limited community transmission.
"I would be certain in saying we have no more risk of having Covid than someone taken at random from the Auckland population.
"I understand if we had come from US, Europe, or India, we would be much higher risk, and therefore to provide an exemption would not be appropriate, but in our case, what risk is there?"
Miller also said the timing was appallingly slow given he had just short notice from management at his mother's rest home at the weekend that she was seriously ailing.
At the time rest home staff told him he would have just 48 hours to be with her before she passed.
He applied on Sunday afternoon but did not hear back from Managed Isolation and Quarantine until three days later.
"By Tuesday morning I had heard nothing," he said. "I just went into a black hole."
Given the pressing deadline he raised the issue with staff at the Christchurch facility.
He said the way requests were handled needed a serious overhaul.
"I think New Zealand has lost the plot. Maybe it will change after Sunday with the election?"
He said it hurt that he did not get an explanation of why he was refused and showed no compassion to those facing traumatic times in their lives.
Miller said he now would likely never get to see his mum in the flesh, honouring her wishes for a cremation in the coming hours.
"She didn't want a funeral. Her page of instructions were that she simply wanted to be cremated and put in a cardboard box.'
He hoped raising this on one of the saddest dies of his life would somehow bring change.
"I'm speaking out about this and putting it in the public domain that it might highlight the issue and help the next person who finds themselves in a similar situation."
Today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was a devastating situation.
"Of course everyone's heart will go out to that family and that individual," she said.
A regime was in place that had been operating since managed isolation was introduced that required certain guidelines to be met to keep families safe.
"Unfortunately though there have been circumstances that have been devastating and that sounds like one of them," she said.
Without knowing the specifics of this case Ardern said authorities allowed for a certain period of time before tests were returned and followed strict protocols around managed exits.
"There are still people who are able to go out in certain circumstances but there are circumstances that need to be met by and large," she said.
A spokesperson for Managed Isolation and Quarantine said they were " very sympathetic to the situations of people applying for exemptions on compassionate grounds, which cover requests after the death of a family member or to visit a seriously ill relative and are truly sorry for Mr Miller's loss".
"The exemption system allows us to consider people's very difficult personal circumstances and balance that with protecting the New Zealand public from COVID-19.
"Decisions on exemptions are made with the health and safety of the New Zealand public at the forefront. Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities operate in a level 4 environment to ensure people staying and working in them are kept safe and that there's a safe transition of people back into the community after their isolation period. Ensuring the safety of all New Zealanders during this global pandemic is critical."
Applications for release from managed isolation are considered on a case-by-case basis and the "distressing and heart-breaking situations facing some of the people who apply are not ignored".
"However, exemptions are approved only where we can be confident that the public health risk will be properly managed. The threshold for approval is high and the majority of applications are declined because the risk is too high. Every effort is made to respond to the applicants in a timely manner, however this is a complex decision-making process and the need for a quick response has to be balanced with assessing the risk to public safety."
Between 13 July - when MBIE took over Managed Isolation and Quarantine - and 14 October, Managed Isolation and Quarantine received 1523 exceptional circumstances exemption applications. Of these 60 were approved, 905 were declined and a further 359 were withdrawn or not progressed by the applications.
Of those applications for exemptions under exceptional circumstances, 13 applications based on a relative that is dying or terminally ill were approved, 381 were declined and 141 were withdrawn or not progressed by the applicants. In addition, 8 applications based on the death of a close relative were approved, 172 declined and 88 were withdrawn or not progressed by applicants.