Sometimes difficult decisions need to be made. Now is one of those times.
Around the world, we are seeing new strains of Covid emerging with pace.
In just the past few weeks, scientists have discovered new variants spreading through the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.
While we still have a lot to learn about these new strains, what they all seem to have in common is that they are much more transmissible - with the UK variant thought to be 50 to 70 per cent more infectious than the original strain.
This is neither unexpected nor surprising. Afterall, that is what viruses do. Like all lifeforms, they evolve in order to thrive.
In fact, these new strains are likely just the start of multiple new strains that will emerge over the coming months. And each of these new strains presents a new risk as we continue our fight against the virus.
In the United Kingdom, the new variant has resulted in a new nationwide lockdown.
The virus is spreading so quickly that the UK's National Health Service is likely to be overrun by the end of the month, with someone in that country being admitted into a hospital every 30 seconds with coronavirus.
And this is despite the fact that 140 people in the UK are being vaccinated every minute.
In Australia, the federal government has announced it is slashing the number of Australian citizens and residents allowed to re-enter the country until mid-February to reduce the risk of UK strain escaping into the community.
And in New Zealand we are seeing increasing numbers of returning Kiwis testing positive in managed isolation for the new strains. While we have seen the Government take some positive moves, such as requiring a negative test by those leaving from the US or the UK, these steps seem inadequate to truly protect our country.
Like Australia, we need to be taking urgent action to reduce the risk presented by these new strains, because if a new strain were to escape from a managed isolation facility it would have a devastating impact.
The increased transmissibility would likely mean the virus would spread rapidly through the community and, given Kiwis increasing lacklustre attitude towards using the Covid tracing app, it would be almost impossible to ringfence an outbreak.
This would inevitability see us being plunged back into a hard level 3 or 4 lockdown as authorities scrambled to bring the situation under control.
Not only would this have a devastating impact on our economy, but also on the mental health of many Kiwis, who would struggle with the isolation of being confined to their homes for an extended period.
That is why we need we need to immediately close our border to all new arrivals and returnees until we can vaccinate our frontline workers.
While this might seem drastic, a temporary closure of the border would buy us the time necessary to strengthen our border, vaccinate our frontline workers and reduce the chances of Covid sneaking through.
I know that there are many New Zealanders around the world who are trying to get home – some permanently and others for a shorter period of time to visit loved ones – and my heart goes out to them.
But the hard truth is that we are in the middle of a global health emergency and we need to put the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few.
The Government's priority must be on protecting New Zealanders at home and this means keeping the virus, and its various strains, out.
Currently, the risk of an accidental outbreak from a managed quarantine facility is simply too great for us to continue as we are.
Hotels are not designed to be effective quarantine facilities, and their continued use to accommodate returnees, in the middle of our largest cities, is playing with fire.
This risk was demonstrated by the recent outbreak of the UK strain in Brisbane, which plunged the city into a short lockdown and is suspected to have started from the Hotel Grand Chancellor where the spreading of the virus through the ventilation system has not being ruled out.
And the major outbreak in Victoria last year was the result of the virus spreading to security and other staff working at hotels being used to isolate returning Australians.
In New Zealand, we have seen numerous examples of individuals escaping managed quarantine facilities and walking the streets of our cities. The September cluster that infected six people is believed to have started through a rubbish bin lid at Christchurch's Crowne Plaza Hotel.
While it is a difficult decision, given the increased transmissibility of the new strains, closing the border is the sensible approach to allow us to strengthen our border management.
To protect New Zealanders, while the border is closed, we need to:
1) Urgently undertake the necessary regulatory approvals to rollout an available vaccine.
2) Vaccinate all our frontline, border facing staff and aircrew to prevent the risk of infection at the border.
3) Critically review our Managed Isolation and Quarantine System, including investigating using options other than hotels in our CBDs to accommodate arrivals.
4) Put in place a system that ensures those wishing to return to New Zealand have undertaken a period of pre-departure quarantine and have returned a negative Covid test before boarding a plane.
Only once these four steps have been implemented should we consider re-opening our border to returning New Zealanders.
Unless we learn from our experiences, and take urgent action, I fear a much harder and longer lockdown might be just around the corner.