The hard part of locking down for Covid-19 was always going to be the unlocking. Once we are cocooned in our bubble with the virus quite possibly raging right outside our door, it can seem dangerous, frivolous even, to venture out into the world again.
And yet we have to. Life is full of risks, but we also need to live it. We humans are sociable types for the most part. So earlier this year, after eight weeks, once the threat seemed to have truly passed and we'd all had a gutsful of the inside of our houses, we tentatively walked out into the sunlight, progressively re-engaging again. Some of us even went back into the office to work.
As it is with individuals, so it must be as a country. We can't stay hidden inside our borders forever. There is a big and wonderful world out there. We need to begin to re-engage with it, to share ideas, trade goods and services, grow and have experiences, and see families and friends, grandchildren and grandparents, who are in the meantime growing up and growing old on the other side of a computer screen.
Without the world we are poorer in many ways. We all understand that. But how to begin and when? It feels safe inside our borders. The bogeyman is out there but he's not in here.
Many want to wait for a universal safe and effective vaccine before opening up at all. But the rollout of that could be a long way off. There could be a lot of life lived before that "get out of jail free" card appears. So how do we put a toe in the water and venture back outside now?
There are some places it would be folly to open up to currently. Nobody is suggesting an open-door policy for India, say, or Britain. But we need to start somewhere, somewhere low risk. And time is ticking by.
Opportunities and events, large and small, are being missed. And who knows whether this proves to be a limited window. We may end up having to shut down again next year as we head into winter — as is starting to happen now in the northern hemisphere.
The logical place to begin is Australia. They are like us in many ways. They too are an island country, albeit a bloody big one. Aside from some poor management in Victoria, they have done at least as well as us in containing the virus. Something like half a million of us live there too.
If we open up a transtasman bubble without quarantine, there'd be very little if any additional risk to the very limited risk we face now. And the upside would be tremendous.
Businesses like hotels, airlines, and tourism companies might limp back from the brink, some people would get their jobs back, families would meet newborn nieces and nephews, birthdays and weddings would be celebrated, dear friends would be there to provide comfort at funerals. Life for many people would become more normal.
It need not be a forever bubble. If something like Victoria happens again, we can close that state off from our part of the bubble.
And yet, we hesitate. Our sense is that we can't control what is happening in Australia the way we think we can here. What if they muck things up and we end up catching the virus again ourselves?
We have become so afraid of any risk. Consider the case of the All Blacks heading to Australia.
I don't hold any brief for whether the team get home for Christmas Day or not. While that would be lovely for their families, plenty of people work on Christmas Day. I am, however, concerned about what the All Blacks' travel arrangements illustrate about our assessment of risk.
Let's think about it. These guys are flying to Australia from a country with no current community transmission. They will be in quarantine for a fortnight when they arrive, and spend their time in two states with next to no cases of Covid-19. They will stay in their own team environment while they are there, and everyone will be regularly tested and have their temperatures monitored. When they come home to New Zealand they will be tested and isolated again. For not one day less than 14!
When they get back, the odds of any team member having the virus undetected will be so small there would seem to be no reason to keep them in quarantine for 14 days. And yet we will. Why? Fear of a mistake — fear of a single slip-up, or fear about the quality of our own track and tracing systems?
This all doesn't sound like a country ready to open a transtasman bubble. Indeed, yesterday our Prime Minister said as much.
Australia is ready. Its Prime Minister said states like South Australia and New South Wales will soon be willing to welcome Kiwis without quarantine. We're going to have to find some courage to do the same the other way.
Our politicians won't be doing it for us, this side of the election at least. They know there are precious few votes in challenging us to face our fears.
If we can't trust the Australians to do as good a job as we think we do in detecting and containing the virus, if we don't believe we can successfully manage the odd case which may come through, then there can be no transtasman bubble. We will be back to square one in terms of living in fear of this virus, and all the personal deprivation that comes with that for so many individuals and families.