Family charged over covid-19 isolation facility escape to attend NZ funeral

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Air Commodore Darryn Webb
Air Commodore Darryn Webb ... family had tested negative for covid-19. Image: RNZ screenshot

By RNZ News

Four teenagers who fled from a New Zealand managed isolation facility in Hamilton last night with their mother had returned to the country to attend their father’s funeral, but had been initially denied permission to go.

Minister Megan Woods and Air Commodore Darryn Webb have held a media conference to discuss the events surrounding the escape of the covid-19 negative family.

They confirmed the five people who escaped were a 37-year-old mother and four children, aged 18, 17, 16 and 12.

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The woman and the three older children have been jointly charged under the covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 and were due to appear in court today. The 12-year-old has not been charged.

The group escaped by climbing over a wall at the Distinction Hotel in Te Rapa, which is the same facility that a man fled from two weeks ago.

Webb said the family arrived into New Zealand from Brisbane on July 21, with the funeral of the children’s father due to take place today.

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

Detailed plan considered
“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.”

Webb said the family tested negative for covid-19 after the results from their first test came back mid to late afternoon yesterday.

“At 6.15pm last night the family were contacted by my team and were advised 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.”

Woods said it appeared that a window was forced open, broken off at security latches, and then a six-foot fence was climbed.

“There is a single point of entry with guards on it, it’s very clear that you are not meant to leave this [facility], we absolutely understand that coming home in a time of grief is an incredibly difficult situation for anyone to be in, but New Zealanders all over the country through level 4 had to deal with similar circumstances where they couldn’t gather to grieve, where they couldn’t see dying loved ones.

“This was a sacrifice we all made to protect each other. We’re asking that those returning New Zealanders also have that patience while we work through robust proccessess.. so we can protect New Zealanders and the gains that we’ve made.”

At 6.58pm, a police officer saw them climbing over the perimiter fence. The officer and a NZDF member chased after them.

Found at nearby park
The woman and three of the children were found at a nearby park and detained just before 8pm last night, while a 17-year-old was found at a house in Waitemata – after making his way to Auckland – early this morning.

Webb said the four who were found in the park appeared to have been there for the majority of the time until they were found and apprehended by the police.

He said it would be up to police if anybody who helped the 17-year-old get to Auckland would be charged.

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP – don’t show up at a medical centre
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