Tongan family’s isolation exemption approved for funeral

A Tongan family has received an isolation exemption from New Zealand’s government so they can attend their father’s funeral in Auckland.

The Akauola family in Auckland started an online petition this week seeking an answer from the government in regards to their case to receive a medical exemption.

The late Saia Akauola with his family

The late Saia Akauola with his family Photo: Supplied

The petition reached over 6,000 signatures in under a week.

The current restriction requires anyone entering New Zealand to be placed in managed isolation for at least 14 days.

Today the Minister of Health David Clark told RNZ Pacific the exemption had been granted on compassionate grounds.

“As is standard with every exemption application, a clear and detailed travel and self-isolation plan must be supplied and approved and, in this case, it has been,” Mr Clark said.

Health Minister David Clark

Health Minister David Clark Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas

Epiuefi Akauola was the full-time caregiver to her dad, Sosefo Ofa Tangikihevaha Halangahu, often referred as Saia Akauola.

Before receiving the positive news of her family’s case from the Minister, she was planning her father’s funeral with her siblings only to able to offer minimal support, as some of them were in quarantine.

“My two brothers from the Gold Coast and one brother with his family from Melbourne arrived on Tuesday and they went straight into quarantine, at a hotel in the CBD.

“My brothers all took the Covid-19 test upon departure in Australia and again when they arrived in Auckland and they have displayed no symptoms.”

Ms Akauola was expecting two of her sisters from Perth to arrive next week, before the funeral on Wednesday. She hoped with her brothers’ release, meant it was look promising for her sisters travelling in.

“I do have a sister with me here in Auckland, but she is currently supporting her husband who is in hospital, so I need my siblings who are in quarantine to help me during this difficult time for us all.

Ms Akauola said since the petition went live, she had received numerous e-mails from people sharing their stories of hope.

“I had messages from people who have had funerals under alert level four and level three and were allowed out of quarantine to attend, so I’m very grateful to the Minister for doing the same for my brothers.”

The brothers will stay in one of their extended family members’ empty five-bedroom house that was offered to them to self-isolate, and they will attend their father’s funeral next week.

Ms Akauola said there were certain Tongan customs when it came to a funeral that she could not do and required her brothers’ assistance.

“In our Tongan culture, because my father is a male, it’s his sons or his brothers’ responsibility to dress him,” she said.

“My dad has only one brother alive and he’s in Tonga, so I would love for my brothers to have that special moment with our dad.”

The late Saia Akauola, tutor for Auckland Girls Grammar's Tongan group for ten years.

The late Saia Akauola, tutor for Auckland Girls Grammar’s Tongan group for ten years. Photo: Supplied

Saia Akauola was a tutor for Tongan groups across Auckland during the ASB Polyfest season.

This includes spending a decade at Auckland Girls Grammar and a few years at Tamaki College.

Ms Akauola said her father was passionate about his culture and about teaching and it is reflected in the response she received from the Tongan community over his death.

“A lot of people who have been tutored by my father have contacted me that they would like to pay their respects and attend the funeral.

“The funeral home is adhering to the restrictions in place and so we have planned to allow 100 people at a time to see my father off.”

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