Covid-19: MIQ announcement too little too late for some

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announces the original plan to reopen New Zealand to the world in 2022, in November. (First published November 24)

She came home to bury her brother but instead spent seven days alone in a managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) room, forced to watch his funeral service on a cellphone.

Now Victoria Hemmingston​ is angry at a system she believes lacks compassion and hopes its near-abolition will put an end to the trauma people like her have endured since MIQ was introduced.

On Thursday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined a five-step process to open the nation’s borders and do away with MIQs for all but the unvaccinated, paving the way for Kiwis overseas to return home from the end of next month.

Returning Kiwis will have to be vaccinated and self-isolate – but won’t need a space in a Government-run MIQ. Critical workers in Australia will also be able to travel in.

* Covid-19: Chris Hipkins talks to media before Cabinet meets on Omicron, MIQ
* Covid-19: Opposition slams 'callous, heartless' plans to drop MIQ for vaccinated Kiwis after Christmas
* Covid-19: MIQ stays shortened for vaccinated travellers but Ardern says trans-Tasman bubble would be like striking matches in a wildfire

From March 13, New Zealanders from the rest of the world will be able to return under similar conditions, alongside some critical workers, and their families.

Ardern said the February and March dates were very firm, and that there was “no intention” of changing them.

But it all came too late for Hemmingston, who tried to fly to Christchurch from Melbourne in December in time to be at her brother Jaymz’s tangi.

Victoria Hemmingston and her brother Jaymz.
Victoria Hemmingson/Supplied
Victoria Hemmingston and her brother Jaymz.

Suffering from a rare kidney disease since 2019, Jaymz, 24, died on December 3.

Desperate to be by his side to say her final goodbyes, Hemmingston immediately contacted MIQ and explained her situation.

After she submitted proof of Jaymz’s death and his funeral she was granted an emergency allocation and flew to Auckland.

Once in MIQ she applied for a temporary release for the tangi after five days in isolation, but was declined and told she must complete the seven days because of the risk of interisland travel.

Hemmingston believes she was misled prior to the flight by officials who assured her she would get the temporary leave.

Stuck in her hotel room, upset and lonely, with her children back in Melbourne, Hemmingston told her family not to hold off Jaymz’s tangi any longer after they delayed in the hope she would make it.

Victoria Hemmingston and her brother Jaymz before he passed away in December.
Victoria Hemmingson/Supplied
Victoria Hemmingston and her brother Jaymz before he passed away in December.

Adding to her heartache, Hemmingston was released on day seven but missed a flight that would have let her see her brother before his cremation in Christchurch due to MIQ timelines that saw her leave the hotel later than expected.

“It was traumatic … letting go would have been a lot easier if I had been able to see him.”

Still angry at she saw was a lack of compassion, Hemmingston couldn’t even bring herself to look at the box her brother’s ashes were in.

Up until Thursday’s announcement, Hemmingston said it had been “too overwhelming” for anybody to consider coming back to New Zealand.

Now she hopes the plan to open the borders and effectively do away with MIQs will stop anyone else from having to watch a funeral from a hotel room.

While many Kiwis are relieved to hear the news of the plan to reopen the borders and end MIQs, others feel let down by the Government.

Hamilton woman Mahia Hemopo has terminal cancer and is hoping she'll be able to see her son again.
Kelly Hodel/Stuff
Hamilton woman Mahia Hemopo has terminal cancer and is hoping she'll be able to see her son again.

Dying of cancer, Mahia Hemopo, is glad to wake up every day because it means she might live long enough to see her son, who lives in Brisbane.

But she was heartbroken when he was denied an emergency MIQ spot he applied for on January 13.

Diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to her brain and kidneys in April last year, Hemopo, 58, was told she had just a year to live.

Her son, Turawaho Hemopo, 33, managed to get back in September for a short visit, and after returning to Australia decided to move back to New Zealand to care for his mum.

Describing the MIQ system as cruel, Turawaho told Stuff he was happy it was being abolished for Kiwi returnees from Australia from February 27, but was wary the Government may still reverse the decision.

The MIQ system has cost Turawaho precious time with his mum in her final months, and he was still hoping that he would be granted an emergency exemption ahead of February 27.

“Every day is precious.”

Hemopo is now looking forward to her son’s support.
Kelly Hodel/Stuff
Hemopo is now looking forward to her son’s support.

For Mahia Hemopo, the entire process has been painful.

Unable to know when or if she would see her son and her grandchildren before she dies, she stopped video calling them because she was so upset.

Thursday’s announcement did little to appease her anxiety as she remained afraid the decision may still be reversed.

Currently undergoing chemotherapy, Hemopo has leaned on her youngest daughter to help, but is now looking forward to having her son’s support. “It will mean a lot to me.”

Turawaho resents the way he has been treated by his home country, saying it had affected both his and his partner’s mental health, and made him feel New Zealand “did not stand” with ex-pats offshore.