New Zealanders up and down the country were right to be furious following news recent arrivals with Covid-19 were given an exemption to leave managed quarantine early and drive to Wellington.
Further fuel was added to the fire with the announcement 51 of the 55 people who left managed isolation early on compassionate grounds were not tested for Covid. Not to mention the 2159 people who completed their two-week managed isolation but were released back into the community without being tested between June 9 and 16.
While most have now tested negative, there are still over 350 individuals letting our team of five million down by refusing a test. While the risk is low, the possibility exists that they may have left quarantine with Covid and begun mixing in our communities. Without a test, we simply will not know.
There is no doubt about where public sentiment lies. And I understand their frustration.
We have all gone through too much over the last three months to let Covid sneak back in because of lax border protocols and bureaucratic stuff-ups.
But while we are all understandably angry, we also need to pause and ask ourselves "what next"? Does this news mean that we must enter lockdown again? And if not, what do we do with the border over the longer term?
Because like it or not, Covid-19 has taken hold around the world. Every day planes are arriving and bringing New Zealanders back home from Covid hotspots around the world.
The return of Covid to our shores was both inevitable and predictable. While the Government's initial target of eliminating Covid set the right tone, it has also set unrealistic expectations. Simply put, over-promising and under-delivering. A new strategy and transparent language is now required to help the country navigate the months and years ahead.
Because we have only stopped the first wave. By going hard and going early, we might have won the initial battle, but we are a long way from winning the war.
Stalling the first wave has given New Zealand the time it needed to source adequate PPE, develop rigorous testing processes (although this has failed at the most critical point, the border), improve our contact tracing capability and learn how to treat the virus based on the experiences of other countries.
But as a country, we now need to decide what appetite we have for risk as we work to revive our economy and facilitate freer movement of people in a world that is likely to be facing a second and third wave of Covid.
Because the reality is other countries will not achieve elimination. It is simply not an option for them. Instead their focus is working to flatten the curve, controlling the spread and protecting their most vulnerable. Their success will be seen in slowing the rate of transmission so as not to overwhelm their public health system.
Australia, for example, is following a strategy of suppression.
While it might sound like semantics, there is a critical difference. Suppression is an acknowledgement that it is unlikely zero cases can be achieved in Australia. Instead their focus is on identifying cases early and working to isolate to prevent community transmission.
Australia was able to adopt this approach, and keep large parts of their economy going, because their systems and processes, as well as their ICU capacity, are simply better than ours.
We have now had four months to improve our systems and processes and invest in our ICU capacity. This work now provides an opportunity to look at how we can ease restrictions with the implementation of transparent, efficient and world-class border controls managed by the military.
This is important because we cannot keep our borders closed indefinitely. This simply is not an option for an open and free society like ours.
Our economy, living standards and livelihoods rely too heavily on the international movement of people for the country to remain sealed off indefinitely.
Tourism, for example, is our largest export market. According to Tourism Industry Aotearoa, international tourists spend over $17 billion in New Zealand every year. Nearly 230,000 Kiwis are employed directly in the industry, with another 160,000 employed indirectly.
Right now, our international tourism sector is dead. Our tourism operators are facing an existential crisis. But so too are our international education, hospitality and retail sectors. The flow-on effects of these industries are substantial. Tens of thousands of businesses and livelihoods are at risk.
That is why we need to be looking at how we can open a transtasman bubble. In doing this, we need to acknowledge that this might also mean that we should also consider moving to a strategy of suppression. Because as we ease restrictions, we increase the chance of Covid-19 re-entering the country.
Many will argue we need to keep the border closed until a vaccine is developed. This is not a realistic option. While a vaccine is the panacea, the reality it is likely many years away, if it eventuates at all.
There is a reason why we still do not have a vaccine for HIV, despite the virus being isolated 30 years ago, with billions having been spent in research and millions of deaths. The dengue fever virus was first identified in 1943, but the first vaccine was only released last year.
The fastest vaccine ever developed was for mumps. This took four years.
And we still don't have a vaccine for the common cold nor a long-lasting vaccine to influenza, which is why we need a flu jab every year.
But even if a vaccine for Covid-19 is developed, the robust testing, trialling and widespread manufacturing required means it will take years to administer the vaccine in sufficient volume to eliminate the virus.
The stark reality is we are likely to be living in a world where Covid will be with us for a long time and we need to learn to adapt.
This means putting in place robust border processes and following them. It means getting our testing and contact tracing to a gold-plated level and ensuring that we find and isolate any cases quickly. It means that we all have confidence in the system but accept a level of "managed" risk required to get our economy going again.
After all, the fight against Covid is a marathon, not a sprint. While we came out of the starting block strongly, we now need to evolve our strategy to ensure the country is positioned well for the longer-term health and economic challenges we now face.