In a week when Judith Collins fussed about where Winston Churchill's portrait should hang in Parliament, Jacinda Ardern was confronting issues of life and death.
With her announcements yesterday, the Prime Minister has proven she has listened to her medical adviser Sir David Skegg but has proven broader and braver than he can be.
The question now is, will she hold her nerve?
On the eve of D-Day, Churchill famously dined alone with his wife, telling her that "by the time you wake tomorrow, there may be 20,000 young men dead". Clementine's response is not recorded. The next day, Allied deaths were 4414, at the very lowest end of the military's estimates.
Luckily for us, Ardern is more squeamish than Churchill. Nevertheless, neither she nor we can escape the same sort of calculations Churchill and New Zealand's war leader, Labour's Peter Fraser, had to confront.
Once Ardern took Covid seriously last March, every major call she has made has been proven right. Going hard and going early has been the right doctrine to survive the initial phoney war and get the best economic result.
Also like Churchill, Ardern's most powerful weapon has been words. While hardly Churchillian, her oratory has been decisive, getting her "Team of Five Million" to submit to lockdowns and obey her commands, where other world leaders have failed.
Moreover, while Churchill had Hugh Dowding, Bernard Montgomery and later Dwight Eisenhower, poor Ardern has had Ashley Bloomfield.
The health authorities' failure on every Covid operation, from distributing personal protection equipment to vaccinating front-line border workers, means New Zealand's Covid-free status is entirely down to Ardern. But her very success makes her next decisions more difficult.
After Churchill's iron curtain fell across Europe, the West's strongest propaganda tool was the evil empire forbidding its citizens to leave, on pain of the gulag or worse.
Unlike Scott Morrison, who banned Australian citizens from leaving Australia without permission from the state, Ardern has not taken the proto-fascist step of introducing exit visas. But she may as well have. Unless part of the nomenklatura, the lack of MIQ spaces on return means visiting family or business associates overseas comes with a semi-permanent sentence of banishment.
The probability of a Level 4 lockdown this side of Christmas is close to 100 per cent, with Skegg saying we are likely to experience an outbreak of the Delta variant in the next few months. The Government says its response will be to move immediately to Level 4. Given the pedestrian vaccine rollout, that is the only possible call.
But whereas Skegg says current border restrictions need to remain until next year, Ardern is prepared to take the risk of trialling alternatives to MIQ this side of Christmas. From October, she will trial home isolation or shorter MIQ stays for vaccinated New Zealanders returning home from medium-risk countries – those that have Covid but what Ardern calls "pretty decent rates of vaccinations". When the trial begins, that will define most of the world.
The Government won't say it explicitly yet, but implies you'll arrive home at the airport and have the choice between being locked up in a hotel for a few days or wearing an electronic ankle bracelet at home. Any convict will tell you home detention is better than a windowless hotel.
The Prime Minister is also signalling greater trust in rapid border testing, by which she means drooling into a spoon and getting a highly accurate result within a few hours, or spitting onto a card and getting a less reliable result almost immediately.
The Beehive remains furious that the Ministry of Health has stuffed around over saliva testing.
Ministers see it as part of a pattern that includes the fuss over Sam Morgan's contact tracing card and the inability to deliver anything meaningful from the $1.9 billion for mental health that Finance Minister Grant Robertson made the centrepiece of his failed "wellbeing" Budget.
With the likely assistance of the new "delivery unit" reporting to Robertson, the Government wants quarantine-free arrivals as early as possible next year for travellers from low-risk countries who pass a reliable spit test at the border.
Right now, its focus is New Zealanders returning home, but it isn't too much of a stretch to extend the policy to tourists and international students before the end of the peak tourism season and the start of the 2022 academic year.
All of this raises the risk Delta will appear. For now, lockdown is the only possible response. But once everyone has had the chance to be vaccinated, Ardern faces a horrible dilemma similar to the choices Churchill and his Allies faced in 1944, albeit with lower potential casualties.
Health experts, including Skegg, are obliged to focus almost exclusively on reducing morbidity and mortality. They are right that New Zealand has been let down by other countries, including our old allies, which have failed to eliminate Covid the way we have. But that means they cannot help but offer very conservative advice on re-opening New Zealand, with an opening position of keeping the border shut forever.
That would be fine were we happy to live East German-style behind a closed border, shipping off commodity milk powder, meat carcasses and logs. Few of us, if any, would ever get sick or die from Covid, whether or not we were vaccinated. The commodity economy would trundle along.
But most people value things in addition to reducing morbidity and mortality and earning enough money from commodity trade.
Young people and the retired want to see the world just for the hell of it. Schools and universities want foreign students and academics to bring different perspectives to their teaching and research. People enjoy being part of a vibrant tourism industry. Exporters need to meet with foreign customers in-market to share ideas for product development and to deliver services. People want to see friends and family abroad, and to welcome them here.
This week's announcements prove Ardern is taking these values into account. But that means some people who refuse to be vaccinated will get sick from Covid and die.
Ardern will need to make the finest and most difficult judgments of her life over the months ahead. They will be informed by medical experts but not limited by them. No one envies her job.
- Matthew Hooton is an Auckland-based public relations consultant.
An earlier version of this column referred to the Government's rollout of saliva testing and claimed a "single supplier" had failed to meet deadlines. That is not the case. The supplier has been undertaking saliva testing since February at MIQ facilities, and is ready to expand its services.