A returning Australian traveller who missed the birth of his first baby due to COVID-19 restrictions has slammed health authorities over the delay in approving his hotel quarantine exemption request.
Moe and Sarah Haidar, who are originally from Melbourne, arrived in Brisbane from Qatar on 26 May and began their two weeks in quarantine at the Amora Hotel.
But at almost 30 weeks pregnant, Ms Haidar, 27, had to be admitted to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital last week after she began experiencing pains and got an exemption to leave the hotel for a check-up.
The couple was later told to mentally prepare for an emergency C-section so Mr Haidar, 29, made an exemption application to Queensland Health on Saturday 29 May asking to be with his wife in hospital. He noted the complications with her pregnancy and that the pair had both received their two shots of the Pfizer vaccine overseas and tested negative to COVID-19 three times.
But, he said, his request for an exemption was ignored and Ms Haidar gave birth to their baby boy just before 4am on Wednesday without any loved ones by her side.
“We were originally told that because she was by herself, Sarah would be able to video-call me, as long as it was just the two of us,” Mr Haidar told SBS News. “But then that quickly turned into a no. She did it all by herself.
“I missed my son’s birth. I didn’t get to see him at all. My wife didn’t get to see him either. They were separated by a curtain.”
The baby is currently in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and the couple is not permitted to see him in person until their two-week quarantine period ends on 9 June.
While Mr Haidar praised the staff on the maternity ward, he said before his wife was transferred there she complained of being “treated by hospital staff as if she was going to cause an outbreak” because she was in quarantine, despite the fact that she had received her vaccine and tested negative to COVID-19.
On Wednesday morning – four days after applying for the exemption and a day after his wife went into labour – Mr Haidar was finally given permission to be with his wife in hospital.
He said he has to sleep on a fitness-style mat by her bed.
“I’m happy to sleep on a mat, but for Australia that shouldn’t be the case,” he said.
‘They’re not doing a good job’
Mr Haidar, who has been living in Qatar for the past four years, criticised what he believes to be a lack of communication between the hospital, the hotel and state health authorities in approving his exemption request.
“I blame the communication between whoever I needed to get through to get to the emergency management team at the hospital, and the health minister’s office,” he said.
Mr Haidar believes Queensland Health was waiting on a letter from the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital to approve the exemption.
“I spoke with ‘health directions’, and I was told that if I get a letter saying they’ll accommodate me, I’ll get approved right away.”
“It sounds like they just handballed this to one another.”
The Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital did not respond to a request for comment and referred SBS News to Queensland Health.
A spokesperson for Queensland Health said the department was unable to comment due to patient confidentiality.
On its website, the Queensland Government states: “There are very few reasons why an exemption from quarantine will be granted”.
“You will need to quarantine while your exemption is being considered, and you will be required to pay for the quarantine for a period of up to 14 days.”
The Amora Hotel has been contacted for comment.
Mr Haidar said that while he understands the importance of having rules in place, he feels Australian authorities aren’t as organised as they should be at this stage in the pandemic.
“I do get it,” he said. “We lived through COVID in Qatar. We lived through 1,000 cases a day.”
“But the contact tracing over there works – everyone has a COVID app for contact tracing, and you follow the rules or you get fined.
“Here, I get the strictness of it, but they’re not doing a good job. If you’re going to allow for exceptional circumstances, that means something’s urgent.”
He said that a country with so few cases compared to other countries should be able to better manage our processes for hotel quarantine and the vaccine rollout.
“I want to ask the health minister, ‘why haven’t you looked at how other countries are doing it, and adjusting from there?’ ‘Why isn’t the COVIDSafe app mandatory?’” he said.
“I feel like it’s become so politicised. It’s genuinely created a fear of getting the vaccine – people here think we’re insane for having gotten it. [The government] hasn’t done a good enough job to provide open understanding, and the vaccine rollout has been horrendous.”
Queensland has recorded 1,619 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and administered 236,701 vaccine doses.
The federal government has defended Australia’s vaccine rollout, with Health Minister Greg Hunt describing the jab program as an “extraordinary achievement”.
“We are focusing on protecting those who are most vulnerable, and we keep urging people to come forward to be tested and come forward to be vaccinated,” Mr Hunt told Seven on Friday.
“Australians are doing a fantastic job, and it’s very important to put in perspective the extraordinary achievement of Australians and Australia.”