A grieving New Zealander who watched his mother die by video link has been granted a last-minute MIQ spot so he can attend her funeral in Ireland.
Paul Mullally received the good news this morning that his family would have four days in Ireland to say goodbye.
"It was a shock to be honest," he said. "Relief. It just means I get to go home and bury my mother."
The Irish-born Kiwi citizen had told his mother he loved her for the last time over video call on Sunday, moments before she died.
His emergency MIQ application for the family to return to New Zealand, filed nine days earlier, was pending at the time.
Speaking to the Herald from Auckland International Airport an hour before departure tonight, Mullally said he could not believe his eyes when an "approved" status showed up next to his application on the MIQ portal around 11am.
They moved quickly. Mullally and his wife Jo packed their bags and, together with their 1-year-old girl Kayla, drove to the airport even before their flights were confirmed. They may not have arrived in time if they'd waited any longer, he said.
The Auckland builder had trusted their travel agent to take care of things, despite it being the Auckland Anniversary long weekend.
"The woman's a saint. She's gone above and beyond," Mullally said of his agent Sharon O'Brien of Live Breathe Travel on Auckland's North Shore. "It's people like that that New Zealand is built on."
The last time Mullally saw her mother Angela was in 2020, when she came to New Zealand for the funeral of Mullally's firstborn Chloe, who died of leukemia at the age of 2.
Last year, Angela was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and given four or five years to live.
But the cancer had spread to her liver and spine by Christmas, and her condition rapidly deteriorated.
The family applied for emergency MIQ on January 21. For more than a week, they checked the online portal every half hour, every day. They were still waiting when Angela died in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Fearing they could not return to New Zealand, they cancelled their flights, originally booked for January 28.
"I wasn't in a position to go away and hope to come back at some stage," Mullally had said. He owns a business with staff on the payroll and had just bought a house.
He believes the Herald on Sunday report about his situation helped move his case with MIQ.
"It means the world to me," he said. "I feel the only reason we got it is because [the Herald] did a story on it."
Mullally is part of a Facebook group of grounded Kiwis in similar situations, and says he does not understand New Zealand's managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system.
"We're travelling as a family, we have our own house to stay in, why do we have to go to a hotel when people who have Covid out in the community can stay in their own houses? It's beyond madness."
Head of MIQ Chris Bunny said the system was experiencing very high volumes of emergency allocation requests due to widespread travel disruption around the world.
"Right now, MIQ is under pressure like never before."
There are currently 400 rooms per fortnight set aside for those who need to travel urgently.
"These decisions are not easy ones to make, and we are sympathetic to the distressing situations people applying for an emergency allocation are in," Bunny said.
It's a 30-hour journey from Auckland to Dublin via Dubai, but Mullally was glad as he spoke to the Herald over the phone from the airport.
"My 1-year-old will be a demon by the time we get back to New Zealand next week. It's worth it."