Pacific Leadership Forum unimpressed with COVID-19 bungle

An organisation advocating for Pasifika in New Zealand says a border bungle, resulting in the country having two active cases of COVID-19 last week is inexcusable and highlights an unfair system.

Two sisters who arrived from the UK on Sunday 7 June were granted a compassionate exemption to leave managed isolation in Auckland to visit their dying parent in Wellington.

Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the pair had applied for an exemption on Friday 12 June to travel on a private vehicle to the capital and it was approved the following day. The sisters drove down on the 13 June, and that night the parent died.

The Pacific Leadership Forum are a group of Pacific communities who look after the interests of Pasifika and communicate their concerns to the government.

"We have been concerned with the restrictions for quite some time, since alert level four and so within our forum, we set up a Pacific response co-ordination team, which I chair, to voice the concerns from the people on the ground," Manase Lua said.

"We want the government to understand the issues and challenges that our community have, and so we've partnered up with them to support them and make sure they get that information," he said.

"Of course, we feel for the family who are mourning a family member, but so have many other families in New Zealand, in particular our Pacific families.

"We had a Tongan family who applied for exemption, waited for days for a response from the Minister of Health, shared their story on social media, started a petition that received over 13,000 signatures and then were finally granted compassionate leave," he said.

Mr Lua said it seemed Pacific people have had to jump through hoops to get a response, when others were allowed to travel to Wellington untested.

"It will be very disappointing if we see a second lockdown due to poor decision making. We have all come together as a country to reach zero cases and this incident has let everybody down," Mr Lua said.

The Pacific Leadership Forum flagged another issue it felt needed addressing, regarding overstayers in New Zealand.

"They are a vulnerable group and there are human rights issues here.

"We have to do something to support them seeing they are in our country. They can't go back home because a lot of the borders in the islands are closed," Mr Lua said.

"I feel as if it is the same problem we had during the Dawn Raids era. The bulk of the overstayers in the 1970s were actually people from the UK. They weren't from the Pacific, yet we were the ones targeted and treated differently."

Dr Ashley Bloomfield had apologised for the border slip-up, and Mr Lua hoped New Zealand would learn from the failure of the system and treat everyone's cases fairly and compassionately.