EXCLUSIVE – Māori family that fled self-isolation facility in Hamilton talks to Te Ao

updated By Heta Gardiner

EXCLUSIVE –Māori family that fled self-isolation facility in Hamilton speaks to Te Ao.

Te Ao has talked to the family which claim to be the party who fled a self-isolation facility in Hamilton last night.

Members of the whānau say they had returned from overseas to attend the tangi of a family member, and that their first application for an exemption to attend the tangi was declined. After Covid-19 tests for the whānau of five returned a negative result, they re-submitted an application on compassionate grounds.

Te Ao interviewed the family yesterday and had planned to run a story on the family's predicament. However, the whānau requested the interview not be published, fearing the second application for exemption would be jeopardised. Te Ao agreed not to publish the interview in accordance with the family’s wishes.

The family reached out to Te Ao producer Heta Gardiner this morning, confirming it was the family that fled, and that at least one person would be appearing in court tomorrow.

Speaking at a press conference today, Minister Megan Woods, who is in charge of managed isolation and quarantine, said, "While we can understand their grief, we cannot allow one tragedy to turn into a tragedy for hundreds by allowing Covid-19 any opportunity to get back into our communities.

Exemption requested

"As we have always said, keeping Covid contained at the border relies on the managed isolation system operating within strict rules and parameters. This requires returnees to comply with the rules and these people broke the rules."

Commodore Darryn Webb, head of managed isolation and quarantine, told media the family, which arrived from Brisbane on July 21, had requested an exemption on arrival.

“Upon arrival, they requested an exemption to spend time with a family member and a recently deceased close relative and to attend the funeral. This request was declined as the health risk was deemed too high at that point in time, noting that they had not yet conducted a day 3 test.

"A further request was made yesterday to view the body ahead of the funeral and a detailed plan was being considered to enable this to happen. This involved extensive work, discussion with iwi, Māori wardens, police and the funeral home itself.

"At 6.15pm last night the family were contacted by my team and advised that we were actively considering their application and doing everything we could to support it.  They were made aware that the application process was looking positive and that they would be given a decision by 8pm last night."

After detailing the circumstances surrounding the escape and the return of the family to the facility, Commodore Webb said, “These facilities are not prisons and neither should they be. This was a premeditated and planned attempt to break the law and leave this facility.”

In a media statement Saturday afternoon, police confirmed that a 37-year-old woman, together with three youths aged 18, 17 and 16, have been jointly charged with intentionally failing to comply with an order made under section 11 of the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 by leaving a managed isolation facility.

A 12-year-old who also left the facility has not been charged, the statement said.