A mum and her children who absconded from managed isolation in Hamilton were still waiting for the final word on whether they could say goodbye to their deceased relative before making their escape.

The group of five escaped from the Distinction Hamilton hotel last night and had earlier applied to attend a relative's funeral in Auckland this afternoon. They had arrived in New Zealand from Australia on July 21.

They escaped by allegedly breaking a window off its latches and climbing a six-foot security fence.

The family comprised a mother and four children aged 12, 16, 17 and 18.

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The group had applied for compassionate leave but it was declined. An updated application was "looking positive", Air Commodore Darryn Webb said.

"While we can understand their grief we can not let one tragedy to turn into a tragedy of hundreds," Cabinet Minister Megan Woods said.

"These people broke the rules," Woods said.

Webb revealed the group of five entered New Zealand from Brisbane on flight NZ146 on July 21.

Why family's funeral bid was declined

Webb said the family's earlier request for an exemption from isolation to attend the family member's funeral was refused because they had not been administered a day-three Covid-19 test. Webb said the health risk was deemed too high to grant their application at that time.

A further request was made yesterday to view the body of the deceased relative, which the Ministry of Health was working to organise, Webb said.

Discussions were occurring with iwi, Māori wardens, and police.

Housing Minister Megan Woods (left) and Air Commodore Darryn Webb. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Housing Minister Megan Woods (left) and Air Commodore Darryn Webb. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The family's negative tests were received mid to late afternoon yesterday.

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Webb said the family was told their application was "looking positive" last night and a decision would be made by 8pm.

Webb confirmed the family would have been given an exemption to go and view the body of the deceased relative, and then would be taken back to isolation.

At 6.58pm yesterday, before the final decision had been made, people were seen climbing over the perimeter fence of the Distinction Hotel.

An NZDF staffer and a police officer gave chase.

Four members of the family were apprehended by police in a nearby park. The fifth, a 17-year-old, made it all the way to Auckland before being detained. Four members of the family are facing charges of breaching a Health Act notice.

Webb said the funeral of the deceased family member would continue this afternoon. When asked if the family had ruined their chances of seeing the body, Webb said: "I think the answer is absolutely."

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The 17-year-old was apprehended at a residence in Auckland.

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The family living at the residence had been asked not to attend the funeral, too.

Webb described the health risk as "low" however, and the residents were still free to attend the funeral if they chose to.

Woods said of the isolation facility the family escaped from: "There is a single point of entry with guards on it. It is very clear you are not meant to leave."

Woods asked that returning New Zealanders have the same "patience" and make the same "sacrifice" every other Kiwi made during lockdown.

Webb maintained "in regards security at our facilities, we have made ongoing improvements in all aspects".

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Additional security staff and further fencing are among these improvements.

These facilities are not prisons and nor should they be," Webb said.

"This was a premeditated and planned attempt to break the law," Webb said.

The public interest was "paramount" when judging whether an exemption to isolation was granted, Webb said.

The strict criteria are: how many countries have they travelled through, how many days they've been in New Zealand, and whether they've had a negative test for Covid-19.

Woods said the family were returning New Zealand residents.

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Every person that came into New Zealand needed to be considered a positive Covid-19 case, Webb said. The family concerned had not completed their day-three test and that was why their request for exemption was refused.

Woods would not say if electronic bracelets or guards in front of every door were being considered by authorities.

Woods said no other New Zealanders had those barriers in lockdown and some "personal responsibility" was needed from returnees.

Woods said the cost of bracelets and guards in front of every isolation door would need to be very carefully considered.

Woods said the issues around ankle bracelets for isolation detainees were "complex" and there were legal factors to consider.

Woods said their monitoring, in this case, let authorities know the 17-year-old was on their way to Auckland.

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