'A premeditated and planned attempt to break the law' - Alleged absconders jumped fence in attempt to see dead relative

More details about the five people who allegedly absconded from a Hamilton managed isolation facility have been released, with authorities confirming it was a family wanting to see a dead relative and attend their funeral.

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Air Commodore Darryn Webb said the five people were awaiting a decision around compassionate exemption. Source: 1 NEWS

Megan Woods, the Minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine facilities, said the family flew from Brisbane after the death of a close family member. 

But, she said she condemned their actions because everyone who entered from overseas could pose a threat. 

“While we understand their grief, we cannot allow one tragedy to turn into a tragedy for hundreds by allowing Covid-19 any opportunity to get back into our communities,” she said.

Air Commode Darryn Webb said the family flew into the country on flight NZ146 on July 21 after a “close relative” had passed away.

They were transported to managed isolation in Hamilton and stayed at the Distinction Hotel in Te Rapa.

The family, who tested negative for Covid-19 in day three of their stay, requested an exemption to attend a funeral the day after they arrived, Mr Webb said.

He said their initial request was declined as “the health risk was deemed too high at that point in time, noting they had not yet conducted a day three test”.

The family then made a further request yesterday to view the body ahead of the funeral, he said.

Mr Webb said authorities were working on a plan for the family, and the family was contacted at 6.15pm yesterday and told their application was “actively” being considered and that it was looking positive.

This was after the family had received a negative Covid-19 test result at noon yesterday, Mr Webb said.

He said the family was then told a decision would be communicated to them by 8pm, but just before 7pm police doing routine patrolling saw people climb over a perimeter fence. 

Mr Webb said the alleged absconders forced off open a window and scaled a 1.8 metre fence to escape.

New Zealand Defence Force staff and police gave chase, Mr Webb said. He said he didn't know why the family couldn't wait until 8pm.

“This was a premeditated and planned attempt to break the law and leave this facility.”

This led to the detaining of a 37-year-old woman and three young people, aged 12, 16 and 18, at about 7.50pm yesterday.

Mr Webb said the four people were found in a nearby park and had stayed there the majority of the time they were outside of the facility.

He said a “reasonable inference” could be made that the family were waiting for someone to pick them up given the fifth person, a 17-year-old male, was located at an address in Waitematā, Auckland today. 

The 17-year-old was found at about 4.40am and was detained without incident. 

Four of the five people who allegedly escaped from Distinction Hotel last night have been charged, police Assistant Commissioner Scott Fraser said this morning. The 12-year-old involved has not been charged.

Police said the group of four was charged for inentionally failing to comply with a section 11 order under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020.

Section 26(1) of the act states “a person commits an offence if the person intentionally fails to comply with a section 11 order”.

Under section 11, the Act can restrict the movement and actions of people who are “likely to contribute to the risk of the outbreak or spread of spread of Covid-19”.

Under the Act, the maximum punishment for offences could include a six-month prison term or a fine of $4000. 

All except the 12-year-old are facing court today the Hamilton District Court and in a Youth Court in Hamilton, however the 17-year-old will appear before a Youth Court in Auckland today.

The family will be re-tested along with anyone they may have come into contact with.

Mr Webb assured security at the facilities was undergoing "ongoing improvements". 

"In addition to that we've increased the information passed to arrivals, in terms of verbal briefs and written documentation to make it crystal clear of their obligations," he said.

“These facilities are not prisons, nor should they be.”

Ms Woods reiterated people needed to have a degree of personal responsibility.

She said wrap-around support would be provided to the family if they needed it.

However in a statement, Gerry Brownlee, National's Covid-19 border response spokesperson, said the alleged absconders should foot the bill for their quarantine stay and for the resources used to find them, like police helicopter costs and officials' hours.

“Those who choose to abscond show no respect for the extensive lockdown the team of five million complied with," he said.

“Having recognised the rights of New Zealanders and residents to return home and be provided quarantine facilities, why should the taxpayer bear the cost of absconders’ reckless behaviour?"