A Kiwi ICU doctor in Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) has twice been denied an exemption to leave to visit her dying grandfather.
Fayzah Mutlib is two days into her MIQ stay in Auckland, having arrived on Sunday night.
She travelled to New Zealand from Melbourne where she works at a public hospital as a critical care doctor in order to see her grandfather who has terminal cancer.
Mutlib has been double vaccinated since July and has so far tested negative for Covid-19, but it’s not enough for authorities to allow her to see her grandfather, Abdul, whom she says raised her “like a father”.
Doctors have informed Mutlib her grandfather has only days to live. The family are Muslim and would need need to bury him within 24 hours of his death.
“He’s lived with me ever since I was born. He took me to school every day and picked me up, he helped me with all my science projects,” she says.
Mutlib was back in New Zealand in May this year for several days when the Australia/New Zealand travel bubble was active. But Abdul wasn’t sick in May, it was in the past few weeks his cancer became apparent.
“This has been a huge shock on my family and on me. I thought I’d done all the right things,” she says.
After Abdul became sick she knew she had to come home to say goodbye. Doctors gave Mutlib a letter on Monday, October 25 telling her he had only 48 hours to live.
Authorities told Mutlib she could not apply for a compassionate exemption until she reached MIQ. Since Sunday she’s applied twice to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MIBE) through the online system, but has been rejected both times.
The two letters Mutlib received from MBIE, one on Monday and one Tuesday, while offering sympathy to her grandfather's prognosis, explained the risk the ministry believed she posed to the community.
"Thank you for your application for a temporary exemption from managed isolation," Tuesday's letter reads.
"I would like to offer my sympathy to you and your family during this time. I understand that you wish to be granted a ‘pass out’ from managed isolation in order to be with your grandfather at this time.
"The purpose of managed isolation is to ensure people do not have Covid-19 before they return to our communities and are not placed in a position where they could transmit the virus. Exemption or early release from managed isolation can therefore only be approved for exceptional reasons.
"Having considered your circumstances and all of the information available, and balanced these against the risk to public health, I have determined, that unfortunately, your application must be declined. You are therefore required to complete 14 days in one of our managed isolation facilities without a pass out.
"These are unprecedented, unparalleled and challenging days that we all face. I thank you for your patience, trust and understanding as we work to keep our communities and all New Zealanders safe in these very difficult times."
But Mutlib says the explanation doesn't make sense.
“They have not provided any information as to why i’ve been rejected, they just say because of public health reasons, we can’t,” she says.
Mutlib says in her role, she’s used to approving exemption letters for end of life, to allow families to come in to farewell their loved ones.
“I know the protocols, N95 masks, full PPE, that’s what I’d be doing for my grandfather,” she says.
“Because of my work, I have to be tested for Covid every day,” she says, adding she showed officials screenshots of her historic negative results and Covid-19 passport.
She says her work had been “so accommodating” prior to her travel, only allowing her to see low-risk patients before she left for New Zealand.
“It’s just so heartless, on the website it says you can be granted exemption from isolation for exceptional circumstances.
“I don’t know what else you could class as exceptional than your grandfather who is about to die,” Mutlib says.
"It would mean the world to me if I could spend a couple of hours with my grandfather before he dies.
"I provide care for dying patients everyday yet I can't provide it for the person who means the most to me."
"Decisions on exemptions from managed isolation are not easy ones to make and we are very sympathetic to the distressing situations people applying for exemption from managed isolation are in," an MBIE spokesperson says.
"However, we need to balance each individual application with our critical work to ensure the safety of all New Zealanders.
"People entering New Zealand must stay in managed isolation or quarantine for at least 14 days, complete a health assessment and return a negative Covid-19 test before they can go into the community. Ensuring the safety of all New Zealanders during this global pandemic is critical.
"Decisions on exemptions from managed isolation are made with the health and safety of the New Zealand public at the forefront.
"All applications are assessed on a case by case basis. People can apply for an exemption from having to stay in managed isolation, or have a temporary pass out but the threshold is extremely high and exemptions are rare.
"This is because as a key factor in assessing any application is the public health risk of transmitting Covid-19 to the community. If applicants are considered too high risk for spreading Covid-19, or it is deemed that the risk cannot be appropriately managed, the application will be declined," MBIE says.
What are exceptional circumstances?
"MIQ exemptions under the exceptional circumstances category cover requests such as the death of a family member (where the applicant wishes to have a private viewing), or to visit a terminally ill relative, or for other exceptional reasons," an MBIE spokesperson says.
"The key factor in assessing an exceptional circumstances exemption application is the public health risk of transmitting Covid-19 to the community.
"Applications for release from managed isolation are considered on a case-by-case basis based on urgency and within 5-7 working days.
"This timeframe includes obtaining input from Medical Officers of Health and other agencies. Our Exemptions team work 7 days a week to ensure that applications are turned around as quickly as possible, and the distressing situations facing some of the people who apply are not ignored.
"However, exemptions are approved only in exceptional circumstances and where we can be confident that the public health risk will be properly managed.
"When considering applications for exemption from managed isolation a number of factors are considered, including the country the person has come from, the number of countries they travelled through to get to New Zealand, the number of airports they transited through, the work they may have been involved in before coming to New Zealand, and where and who they intend to visit on release."
The Ministry of Health has been contacted for comment.