The time is right for Grant Robertson to spend a billion dollars out of his $20.2 billion Covid-19 slush fund to rigorously protect the border against the virus and build the best intelligence to ensure New Zealand is well-equipped to deal with future disease threats.
Yesterday, Jacinda Ardern finally ordered the Defence Force in to ramp up border safety and ensure the logistics are in place to protect New Zealanders from unwarranted incursions of the virus.
This is long overdue. Put plainly, the Health Ministry does not have the competencies to deal with border threats — something this columnist has focused on before.
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Ardern's order should be welcomed.
But it has been unedifying to watch Cabinet ministers indulging in hissy fits, bouts of anger and the behind-the-scenes beating up on Ashley Bloomfield instead of moving swiftly to treat Covid-19 as a national security threat and acting accordingly.
Looking forward, it is more than time for the Government — with the Opposition's support — to establish a National Security Agency that will ensure the border is made safe now and into the future through the use of world-beating technology.
Couple that with a New Zealand Centre for Disease Control staffed by world-class epidemiologists which can also readily provide personal protection equipment to frontline staff (and for that matter all New Zealanders) as new pandemics emerge.
That the latter was not a prime recommendation from Heather Simpson's health review is a surprise.
Admittedly, Simpson's review had been sitting on the Government's desk since she tendered it during the Covid-19 lockdown and it was not part of her terms of reference.
But given the inability of the Health Ministry to deal with some significant challenges, which it is not equipped for, the whole issue needs to be revisited fast so that New Zealand starts to future-proof against viral threats.
The display of ministerial angst over the 24 hours since Bloomfield confirmed two women, who later tested positive for the virus, were allowed out of self-isolation in Auckland early to travel to Wellington has been somewhat pathetic.
The discovery that the two women had not even been first tested to establish they were free of Covid-19 is a major health and safety issue.
But it is also one of national security as any major flare-ups of the virus will delay the nation's economic recovery.
It cannot be assumed that Robertson's $140b in additional borrowing to smooth the recovery can be easily topped up in the event of delays.
Yesterday, some international media were delighting in stripping New Zealand of its "envy of the world" branding for stamping out the virus and instead indulging in schadenfreude at NZ's expense.
This will have to be countered by putting in place rigorous systems.
Not only for the stance of the country's branding. But more importantly, to make sure New Zealanders can rebuild their businesses and livelihoods without angsting that bureaucratic incompetence will expose them to future lockdowns.
Surely, if we can lead the world in stamping out the virus in the first place, we can also join leaders like Taiwan, in putting in place a fail-safe border?
Right through this crisis New Zealand's border security has verged on amateurville: from when tourists were guided to "self-isolate" but instead mingled with the rest of us; the lack of personal protection equipment for frontline Customs staff; the failure to enforce social distancing — so the farce goes on.
Even now some of those self-isolating in Auckland hotels are talking about being bussed together to exercise on Queens' Wharf when surely the Domain would be a safer place? And mingling with each other rather defeats the purpose of self-isolation.
New Zealand is an easy-going nation and Cabinet has pushed back against the use of high-tech data apps and the use of Government-issued cellphones to monitor those coming across the border to either quarantine or self-isolate. This apparently rubs up against the Western desire for privacy — or so we are told.
But if a national security lens is applied, such considerations can be put to one side.
As the Prime Minister stressed yesterday, the global pandemic is growing. Parts of Beijing are back in lockdown mode after a flare-up of the coronavirus.
So far there is no indication that the virus has spread from the two women now in isolation in Wellington.
It is instructive that Ardern and her team do have a paper on a sophisticated CovidCard Bluetooth device in front of them. This would require high usage to be effective.
The lesson from Taiwan is pertinent. The response to outbreaks of Sars, swine flu and bird flu was run by their National Security Council.
When it came to Covid-19, Taiwan used real-time integration of national healthcare databases with customs and travel records and government-issued cellphones to remotely monitor quarantine orders. These powers can only be used in a crisis under the provisions of their Communicable Disease Control Act.
Why wouldn't we do similarly? This is not a matter of Western culture versus East Asian values. It is a matter of economic survival.