A Covid-infected patient from Fiji is being flown to New Zealand for hospital treatment - despite an earlier decision to decline the transfer.
The Herald understands the patient is a high-profile World Health Organisation staffer based in the Covid-struck island nation.
The aircraft that will bring her to New Zealand landed in Fiji's capital, Suva, shortly after midday. It is expected back in Auckland this afternoon when the woman will be transferred to Middlemore Hospital.
The Ministry of Health said this week that a formal request for a person in Fiji to be moved to New Zealand for treatment had been declined on clinical grounds.
"A planned air transfer of a patient with Covid-19 requiring hospital-level care has been declined following advice from the intensive care unit directors of the three Auckland metro [district health boards] that, given the other commitments, there is no sufficient capacity to currently take the patient."
The ministry confirmed to the Herald that the approval follows an agreement by the metro-Auckland DHBs to treat the patient.
It is understood that the woman works for the WHO, but the ministry said it was bound by privacy considerations.
But former PM Helen Clark, also a former United Nations Development Programme boss, told NZME that the woman was heading to Middlemore Hospital.
Clark also said the woman's mercy flight had been requested by the UN.
"I have total confidence in Middlemore Hospital and its first class ICU. They have done an outstanding job throughout the pandemic and indeed during all emergencies to which they respond," Clark said.
"In this case, Counties Manukau and Middlemore have stepped up to respond to a UN request, which will be hugely appreciated by the UN and the patient and her family. NZ is the first port of call for Medevac by the UN in the Pacific and all costs are met in full by it.
"Many people worked together to make this Medevac possible. Particular thanks are due to Counties Manukau DHB and ICU at Middlemore."
The Herald asked the WHO on Tuesday to confirm that the patient worked for them.
Health officials in this country said a transfer plan was also approved by a medical officer of health from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service and agreed to by NZ Air Ambulance Service.
"The plan takes into consideration the safety of both the patient and the crew who will be transporting the patient."
The ministry acknowledged that the three district health boards were currently working in "an extremely busy and dynamic environment" due to higher than normal reports of winter illnesses and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
"The receiving hospital is yet to be confirmed and will be determined by the treatment required by the patient and the capacity in the respective ICUs."
'I think it's unacceptable' - Pacific health leader
Today's statement also said that the approval comes after a request for specialist treatment here in New Zealand.
"Requests for medical treatment in New Zealand from overseas jurisdictions, particularly in the Pacific, are common. Every request is considered, carefully taking into account factors such as the clinical needs of the patient, whether safe transport can be arranged and the availability of care in New Zealand."
At least one leading Pacific health leader is not happy about the decision.
Dr Collin Tukuitonga said he understood the Covid patient has the highly dangerous Delta variant of the virus.
If New Zealand really wanted to help, more medical staff should be sent to Fiji to help train and support those dealing with the situation there - not bringing the patient to New Zealand.
"We're trying to keep the risk out. We can't totally predict what the Delta variant will do. I think it's unacceptable."
The decision to bring the person to New Zealand for treatment also now sets a precedent.
"I understand [she] is a Fijian national working for the World Health Organisation. Why [is she] being singled out over the many other equally deserving people there?
"How do we then decide who to accept, who to take and who not to take?"
In the latest Covid update from the Fijian Government, 1057 new positive cases were identified for the 24 hours ending at 8am yesterday.
Fijian authorities said 218 people have died because of Covid-19 - 216 during the outbreak that started in April.