A grandmother who’s spending Christmas in MIQ after her husband caught Covid says she’s sad to be apart from her children for the first time for the holiday – but grateful her loved ones are safe.
And she says despite the negative things she’s heard about managed isolation, MIQ has been “paradise”.
Suka was looking forward to Christmas Day this year – while there wouldn’t be the usual church service, up to 20 people from four generations of her family were to gather at her home in Auckland for an all-day party.
Secret Santa names had been drawn. Her three boys would prepare a spit-roasted pig, and an umu with taro, kamo, and plantain with coconut cream. There would be steak, and roast chicken, and raw fish.
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“In the Pacific Islands, it’s a big day for the family. My [elderly] mum too – everyone is happy to see Grandma is still alive so they come home.”
But last Monday, Suka’s husband woke up with a cough and having trouble breathing. He stayed home from work and on Tuesday got tested. With the help of traditional Tongan remedies, by Thursday he had rallied, but that day the call came from South Seas Healthcare – he had Covid.
It’s thought he caught the virus at work. On Friday he went into MIQ at the Holiday Inn in Māngere, and health workers came to the house and tested the whole family.
With all the adults in the family fully vaccinated, just one – Suka’s mother, in her 80s – tested positive, as did three of Suka’s grandchildren, aged 10, 8 and 5.
The children and Suka have now joined her husband at MIQ. Her elderly mum, who normally needs a home carer, has been moved to Middlemore Hospital.
Ten family members are self-isolating at Suka’s house and being regularly tested. The best the family can hope for is that they’ll be together again by New Year’s Eve.
Suka said she would feel lonely on Christmas Day as it was her first one spent apart from her children.
“But it’s okay – after a few weeks we’ll go home to them. My kids are at home safe, I feel safe – that’s the main thing.”
Though she didn’t know if the MIQ facility had anything special planned for Christmas, she was full of praise for the staff and said just being there was like a holiday.
And she said being sent to MIQ felt like a gift from God – who knew they needed a break.
“God knows the hard time we’ve had. We used to do everything for the family, the kids, our village in the islands … the church – most of the time you’re giving,” she said.
“I’ve never stayed in a hotel in my life. This is the first time for me, my husband, my grandkids. I’m so happy … When you walk in there you feel like you’ve gone to heaven.
“You wake up in the morning, your breakfast is at your door. You play with the Wifi for free, you can watch whatever you like – at lunchtime they knock on your door and your lunch is there. Then you play in the afternoon – at seven o’clock they knock on your door, your dinner is there. See how lucky you are!”
She’s also grateful her family is healthy, which she puts down to being vaccinated, and that her remaining grandkids have not caught the virus.
“The kids rang me last night and said mum, all our tests are still negative. I said ‘Thank you Lord’.” Her double-jabbed husband also didn’t seem badly affected by the virus; it was more like a mild flu, she said.
Suka was not sure whether her kids at home would have much of a celebration. They couldn’t shop for presents or Christmas food and she wasn’t sure if they would be paid while isolating – meaning money was likely to be tight.
But countless people had dropped off food, along with vouchers for Pak’n’Save and the Warehouse, which Suka planned to use to buy gifts for the grandkids.
Her family is among more than 1000 people who are likely to be isolating at home at Christmas. As of Wednesday the Ministry of Health said there were 1941 people in self-isolation just in Auckland, including 590 Covid cases.
A spokesperson from South Seas, which is supporting families to self-isolate, said special Christmas packs had been made for every family. They contained food families could cook for Christmas lunch, such as lamb and trifle ingredients.
“We have also provided them with our general food parcels and also giving presents and games for kids and their families.”
Suka said she had two messages for the public: keep getting tested, and get vaccinated.
“Please, go do it. It’s going to help you if Covid comes to you and you’re already vaccinated,” she says. “But if you haven’t been vaccinated oh my gosh, you’re going to find it very difficult, You’re going to be tired. You’re going to be so sick.”
MIQ’s general manager of operations Chris Scarhill said 3200 returnees were expected to spend Christmas Day in MIQ – 500 of them children.
“Hotels are used to looking after people and showing manaakitanga (hospitality) through the festive season. Staff across the facilities are organising a range of different festive activities and experiences for returnees, including special festive meals for Christmas Day, Christmas trees and music.
“”Menus will vary across the facilities, but returnees will be tucking into a variety of festive fare, such as roast turkey with stuffing, glazed ham, tofu and mushrooms for the vegetarians, and sweet treats such as cookies for children on Christmas Eve, pavlova with strawberries, Xmas mince pies and candy canes, and a complimentary glass of bubbles or sparking grape juice.”
Stocking filled with treats would be left at returnees’ doors and a reindeer food station would be set-up outside for kids to feed them the night before Christmas.
Returnees were also encouraged to create festive window art with whatever they had at hand.
Testing and vaccination facilities are still running in the lead-up to Christmas, but some will shut down for the public holidays. All details on opening hours are available on the Healthpoint website.
In Auckland, three sites will be currently open on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day across the city, with the latest details available here (for Auckland) and here (for the rest of the country). GPs and Urgent Care sites will also be operating for testing and many GPs and pharmacies will remain open on Christmas Day for vaccinations.
The Ministry of Health said DHBs were responsible for ensuring there were enough testing and vaccination centres open over the summer period. They would update the Healthpoint website with the latest information if anything changed.
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