It is understandable that there's a misty fondness for how some things were before Covid-19 came along and upended our lives.
Remember when it was possible to make an overnight dash to Sydney to clinch a business deal, visit family and friends wherever they might be, return from your OE at your time of choosing, or jet off to Bali or the Gold Coast at the drop of a hat?
Some have been insisting, somewhat wistfully, that the government just needs to get on and establish a plan for opening the border, so returning us to the sunlit uplands of pre-pandemic days. Look at the rest of the world, they say, it's open.
If only it were that simple.
Clearly, there will be no return to the old normal. And it's a fiction that the rest of the world is open — at least in the sense that it was 20 months ago.
Many countries, particularly in the northern hemisphere, remain under strict constraints.
And as the northern winter approaches and temperatures fall, the restrictions are expected to multiply.
A number of EU states are denying entry to travellers from non-EU countries. Germany has decreed limits on international travel and mass gatherings, forcing the cancellation of Oktoberfest, that Mecca of beer festivals. Singapore has paused further re-opening after a spike in coronavirus cases. The Netherlands is consulting with experts on whether it needs to reintroduce Covid-19 restrictions, amid sharply rising infection rates. Boris Johnson might have restored Britons' liberties for now, but as infections surge, some UK public health experts fear a return to lockdowns is inevitable.
So fickle is this coronavirus that "opening up" will come with all manner of caveats and conditions, as New Zealanders are now learning. It was never going to be a linear process of ticking a series of boxes and then, hey presto, throwing open the gates.
Nothing is certain about the future at the best of times, but right now, prophesying about what lies ahead is downright hazardous. As the baseballer and philosopher king Yogi Berra once said, it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.
The grim reality is we could go on being blindsided by Delta, and whatever variants follow it, for some considerable time.
Epidemiologist Rod Jackson is warning of a potentially "messy" 2022, and urges the government to be nimble, retaining an ability to stop and start its protection measures as Covid-19 circumstances change.
The government's traffic light system announced on October 22 acknowledges that probability.
Vaccine certificates will provide greater freedoms at each of the green, orange and red levels.
But the Prime Minister is cautioning that at the red level — when the system is facing an unsustainable number of hospitalisations and at-risk populations need to be protected — there could still be localised lockdowns.
Breaking free from the grip of the pandemic will be a long, slow game, and many aspects of daily life will be decidedly different from now on.
Take international travel and tourism.
At some point our border will reopen for fully vaccinated travellers only. But there will probably be fewer flights as some airlines have been forced to retrench. Flying will also be more expensive, putting overseas holidays beyond the reach of many. There are fears travel insurance will go through the roof.
Many people are likely to feel hesitant about heading for the exit gates. In addition to the affordability factor, how safe will it be to venture out into a pandemic-ravaged world?
What happens if a traveller is infected with Covid-19 while abroad? Will travellers be required to take a test on arrival at a foreign destination, and what happens while they await the result? Will they be required to download the host country's contact tracing app?
Here at home the tourism market will drag itself off the floor, but the days of 3.5 million tourists coming annually to our shores are history, as is its reliance on a mostly foreign and poorly paid workforce.
The government is pinning its hopes on an industry transformation plan aimed at moving the sector away from a reliance on low-paid and low-skilled migrant workers, to one which is able to attract and upskill Kiwis.
There is an acceptance that tourism activity in New Zealand's national parks, in particular, cannot return to its pre-Covid state. The pressure on treasured sites such as the Tongariro Crossing and Milford Sound had become untenable.
Before the pandemic wrecking ball intervened, work had already begun on making the industry leaner and more sustainable, one which offers an "enhanced" visitor experience.
The government is currently progressing the Milford Opportunities Project masterplan, which is designed to ease the stress on the unique Fiordland environment by slashing visitor numbers, emissions and noise levels. It is being billed as a test case for self-funded, sustainable tourism paid for by visitors.
Global climate concerns will also dampen demand for journeys to New Zealand. The world is miserably off track with its efforts to cap rising temperatures, and long-distance travel is seen as one of the scapegoats.
Europeans are already demonstrating greater reluctance to take long-haul, fossil fuel-burning flights to the other end of the world, opting instead to reclaim the virtues of holidays nearer to home. What the disruptions of the past 20 months have done is make that decision a little easier, not just for Europeans but would-be travellers from all lands.
The upshot is that tourism will not be returning to the same freewheeling way of doing things.
And as Covid-19 lingers, bringing with it the threat of localised lockdowns, there will always be a risk that the industry's new and more limited form of "openness" will be compromised from time to time.
Freedom just ain't what it used to be.
- Mike Munro is a former chief of staff for Jacinda Ardern and served as chief press secretary for Helen Clark.