A New Zealand woman begging for an exemption to quarantine rules to see her critically ill father in hospital says she feels "utterly helpless" to stop him dying alone.

Rachel Henderson wants to urgently fly here from Los Angeles, as her father lies in a Christchurch Hospital intensive care unit with failing kidneys.

Colin Henderson, 73, is in an induced coma on a ventilator. Rachel's been told he is likely to die shortly - and she fears he'll have nobody with him when he goes.

She is pleading with the Government to grant her an exemption from the two-week mandatory isolation imposed on everyone arriving from overseas.


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A distraught Rachel said this morning she knows she's not alone - she's one of many people who can't see dying family members thanks to strict rules meant to stop the spread of Covid-19.

One heartbroken woman told the Herald she believed her father had had his life cut short after spending 10 days alone in hospital.

Ken Barker was brought home to die of cancer with his family around him after Palmerston North Hospital refused to allow his children to visit him there.

His daughter Tania believed that impossible decision had shortened his life - but he had begged to be brought home as he couldn't bear to die alone.

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Rachel Henderson said this morning her father's situation is "absolutely horrible".

"I am trying to be strong for the kids and my family. But I'm not doing particularly well...I feel physically sick, I can't eat, I'm having trouble sleeping. I'm basically a complete wreck."

She says she supports the Prime Minister's approach to the Covid-19 pandemic but is angry and frustrated that there's been no room to move in unique situations like hers.


"It's hard to explain this feeling of complete and utter helplessness, stuck here on the other side of the world and I can't do anything."

The Government has faced increasing criticism in the past week over its stringent quarantine rules, after it was revealed that of 24 people in quarantine who asked to leave early to see dying relatives, not one was allowed out.

All 24 cases are being reviewed after a High Court judge overruled the Government's Covid-19 lockdown order on Friday to allow a son to be at home with his dying father.

Justice Tracey Walker ruled Oliver Christiansen could leave quarantine under strict conditions to see his father, saying that health officials' decisions to decline permission were legally flawed.

In light of Walker's ruling, the Prime Minister has ordered a review of all 24 cases, with findings due by the end of the week.

But for Rachel Henderson that review will likely come too late. Her father had urgent open heart surgery last Thursday to repair two leaky heart valves.


While the operation went well, on Tuesday Rachel got a call to say her father was back in ICU with a suspected bleed and had been put on life support.

She immediately called the NZ Embassy, who advised she could travel here but would have to be quarantined for two weeks before she could see her dad. They put her in contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who sent her an exemption form to fill out.

But she's yet to receive a reply. Meanwhile, with health clearance from a doctor and awaiting the results of a serology test to see if she has antibodies for Covid-19. When the Herald spoke with Rachel this morning she was preparing to board the next plane to Auckland this evening - with or without the exemption.

Rachel has reached out to Oliver Christiansen's lawyer to ask for help. The news wasn't good - he told her she's unlikely to get an exemption because her father's in hospital, increasing the risk that she could expose vulnerable people to Covid-19.

"I understand and would never want to put anyone else at risk but it's heartbreaking all the same," she said.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website


A letter from an intensive care registrar at Christchurch Hospital, which Rachel has sent along with her application for exemption, says her father is likely to pass away and it is "essential that immediate family members are present to help facilitate management".

"I would appreciate you granting an exemption for travel so that Rachel can be with her father in Christchurch at this difficult time."

Rachel lives with her husband and young children in Los Angeles, while her sister Kate and their mum live in Australia. Their parents are divorced.

Colin has an elderly sister in New Zealand but she has serious health conditions and would be at risk herself if she were to visit him.

"In desperation I reached out last night to her, 'Could you please, please see dad'," Rachel said. After visiting the hospital, her aunt told her Colin wasn't looking good.

Colin Henderson is likely to die alone in Christchurch Hospital if his daughter can't get an exemption to New Zealand's strict quarantine rules. Photo / Supplied
Colin Henderson is likely to die alone in Christchurch Hospital if his daughter can't get an exemption to New Zealand's strict quarantine rules. Photo / Supplied

"My plan at this stage is hopefully to get on the flight, arrive in Auckland, and be cleared to go to Christchurch and see my dad. I don't mind if they want to wrap me in clingwrap, I don't care, I just want to see my father," she said.


"If he dies, no one's there to do anything. I don't know what to expect - are they just going to bury him?"

She told her employees she's not one to take no for an answer.

"I believe it's every person's right to see their very sick, dying family members. I'm very low risk - I know there's always a risk but quite frankly it just seems cruel not to let me be there."

Rachel Henderson with her children and her father Colin, who is dying in Christchurch Hospital. Photo / Supplied
Rachel Henderson with her children and her father Colin, who is dying in Christchurch Hospital. Photo / Supplied

"I know I'm not alone," Rachel told the Herald. "There are at least 20 other people like myself that have been denied access to their loved ones."

While she was fully supportive of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's approach to the Covid-19 crisis, she said it was "unacceptable" that allowances were not being made on compassionate grounds for those with dying family members.

"Living [in the USA], with our current president, I wish I was in New Zealand with such great management. I'm in no way critical of how she has handled the situation but in these particular cases we just want access to our loved ones who are dying."

Ardern yesterday defended the decisions that had been made around compassionate exemption but said it was right to go back and review them, saying the cases were "devastating".


But they didn't want to double people's grief by allowing unsafe situations - and some were very complicated.

Twenty people who had come into the country and been quarantined had since tested positive, which showed the risks they carried, she said.