Without compassionate exemption, quarantined Kiwi watches terminally-ill mum die over FaceTime

Luke Appleby
Source: 1News

A woman who returned home from Sydney after hearing her mother had terminal cancer was left with no option but to watch her die over FaceTime from her isolation hotel room.

Veronica Lagaaia received news on June 30 that her mother Veronika Lofipo had terminal lung and bone cancer.

Ms Lagaaia, based in Sydney with husband Mafi, immediately started looking for flights home to Auckland as Ms Lofipo made repeated visits to the hospital.

"There were no flights for those three weeks - it was hard," she said, "we were checking every day to see if anything would pop up - but nothing did - we were willing to pay anything".

She eventually managed to secure a ticket to come home on July 27, at a cost of almost $700.

"She was telling me that she was going to wait until I was with her," Ms Lagaaia, who is pregnant with her first child, said. 

She arrived in New Zealand on Monday, and was taken to an isolation hotel, but then reported a headache and cough during a health check and was transferred to Jet Park Hotel.

Jet Park Hotel is being used to quarantine people who arrive with symptoms of Covid-19, as well as for the quarantine of confirmed cases.

With her mother's condition quickly deteriorating, Ms Lagaaia inquired about whether she could be given a compassionate exemption from quarantine, just to see her mother before she died.

"They just said 'no, sorry, we can't organise this for you'," Ms Lagaaia said.

According to current compassionate exemption rules , people with Covid-19 symptoms, or people staying in a facility used for quarantine will likely be refused a compassionate exemption.

At that stage, Ms Lagaaia had also not yet been tested for Covid-19.

Two days later, on the morning of July 29, in the presence of her two other daughters and with Ms Lagaaia watching over FaceTime, Ms Lofipo died.

"I watched my sister give my mum CPR, be pronounced dead and then be taken away to the funeral home," Ms Lagaaia said.

"I watched my sisters dress her and prepare her for the family service.

"Being her youngest child and carrying my first baby, I only wanted to hold her hand."

Ms Lagaaia then received a Covid-19 test the day after her mother died - which came back negative on Friday - but she has remained at the Jet Park Hotel since.

That meant Ms Lagaaia could only watch a live stream of her mother's funeral on Saturday.

Afterwards, the family was able to arrange for the hearse to come into the car park of the Jet Park Hotel for Ms Lagaaia to say goodbye.

"When they brought her through, they also allowed the vehicles of my sister and their family, so I could see them and my Dad.

"The hardest thing was that I couldn't even touch the car."

Ms Lagaaia said she is "struggling to keep it together", but that staff at Jet Park Hotel had been incredibly kind to her, checking in on her every few hours and asking if there's anything she needs.

She said she wants New Zealanders to know that those in isolation are having a really hard time.

"I really don't want anyone else to go through what I've gone through - no one deserves to not be able to say goodbye - it's not fair."

"I think the government should take into consideration that isolation is really hard especially for those losing loved ones - all you want to do is be with them.

"It's not like we are going to go out there and break any rules, all we want is to say our goodbye and to come straight back into isolation - to see them at least.

"It wouldn't matter if I was in a van and not able to touch her - but just to see her - and for her to see me."

New Zealand's compassionate exemptions were put on hold since early mid-June, after it was revealed two women were released from their hotel on an exemption without being tested for Covid-19.

They later tested positive. 

The rules have since been slightly relaxed, with people in "exceptional" circumstances potentially eligible for early leave, provided their health checks are clear. 

Last week , a mother who admitted escaping from an isolation hotel with her four children said she was "panicking" because she and her family wanted to see the children's father after he died from a stroke.

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