Above: National MP and former GP Dr Shane Reti is in Tai Tokerau vaccinating 'as many people as possible' as failed border exemptions saw covid in his rohe. He says the wrong people are getting exemptions while others desperately in need are being shunned by 'absurd' Ministry of Health decisions. Photo/ Supplied
Moyra was there when her 34-year-old nephew Andrew Speir was born, she never thought she would have to watch him die, let alone from a distance, battling to be with him in circumstances opposition MPs have branded 'absurd'.
"I don't have any family myself. I live on my own. I’m single. I don't want to say he's my son in that respect because his parents are incredible. But he is my only nephew, I couldn’t be closer to him," says Moyra from her home in Palmerston North.
Andrew is a 30-minute flight away in Tāmaki, where he is battling stage four cancer. Four days into August’s snap lockdown, the family got the prognosis they were dreading, Andrew was terminal and his doctors recommended stopping treatment.
Moyra, a social worker, immediately sought a compassionate exemption to travel to Tāmaki to assist her brother (Andrew’s dad) with palliative care, and to say her goodbyes.
The exemption was a no brainer, she thought. She was travelling from a Covid-zero area and in her application committed to not coming back to Palmerston North until the border reopened.
Beyond that, Moyra is double-vaccinated and undertook observational Covid testing to prove she posed no risk to Aucklanders.
She received her first of what would be four rejection notices shortly after. The Ministry of Health’s reasoning? She was not a close enough family member.
"I heard back probably two days later, or whatever it was, that they don't consider me essential travel because I’m just his aunty," Moyra said in tears.
Te Ao Māori News asked the ministry about the specifics of why Moyra was rejected, given the public health order which they use to reject applications is designed to 'minimise potential spread of the virus'. They refused to answer questions about Moyra's case specifically, but provided a statement.
"Travel into and out of those areas is highly restricted, to minimise potential spread of the virus," they said in the statement.
Seeking clarity, we asked what threat a double-vaccinated person from an area without Covid posed to Tāmaki.
"The Covid-19 vaccine is highly effective… though, our approach is to do everything we can to minimise the public health risk of Covid-19," the ministry said.
Moyra provided a document from Andrew’s doctor stating he is terminal and his death is imminent in her subsequent applications. She also highlighted the fact she lives alone, as they are grounds for exemption also earmarked on the ministry’s website. Her appeal was again rejected.
Dr Shane Reti
That was when she brought the case to the attention of Tai Tokerau National MP Dr Shane Reti.
Reti, a GP and National's health spokesperson, read the ministry's reasoning and slammed the policy as 'absurd'. He says he's fearful of how many others have been rejected on the same grounds.
"The aunt lives alone, has tested negative and is going to stay in Auckland until alert levels change. We hear of other cases like this which defy logic," he said.
Moyra does not see the family’s plight as political, but admits that seeing a judge’s son, sex workers, gang leaders and, even the prime minister, cross the motu with varying degrees of legitimacy has been tough.
"I'm not more important than anybody else. I would never claim to be. It's just I’m no less important either," she says.
"They need to look at how they make their judgments…It has to be based on actual circumstances, not just a number because this stuff will affect people down the track… For some people, it will destroy them."
Her last hope is an appeal to the Ombudsman. Reti’s staff submitted that on her behalf in September. It took two weeks to get a response acknowledging it was received, with no commitment to render a judgment in urgency.
"I can't wait a month for them to come back to me, we don’t have that sort of time," Moyra says.
Reti is calling on the government to urgently reassess its policies. For Andrew and Moyra's case, his office has appealed directly to the ministers responsible.
"There is urgency. Andrew has been taken off all of his medicines except pain relief. Please offer him the chance of a dignified journey with his family," he wrote.
Moyra concedes she might not make it to Andrew in time. If not, she hopes her case could address something she feels thousands of others are battling too. She questions if appeals like hers ever make it past bureaucrats and onto ministers’ desks that set the policies.
"I know that they’re busy. Covid, it’s a terrible situation. But it is here now and it's not going away anytime soon, their policies need to reflect that, there has to be a change," she says.
'I just want to hold his hand'
Moyra says Andrew cannot talk on the phone anymore but being with him is not about talking.
"Just to be able to give him a bit of a hug and, you know, I’m not asking for anything out of the ordinary. It's just to be there. I just want to hold his hand."
Te Ao Māori News approached Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins’s office concerning the Spier family’s case.
The minister did not respond to our request for comment.