As this Delta dog of a year comes to a close and New Zealand returns to a semblance of normality, just in time for Christmas and the party season, we face a new elephant in the room of every event and gathering – the unvaccinated guest.
New Zealand's vaccination rate currently sits at 85.6 per cent. That leaves 320,300 people without protection from Covid and at greater risk of spreading it to others, including the immune-compromised and those who can't be vaccinated: our kids.
But these people are also our mates we used to love hosting for our annual end of year drinks. They're our cousin and her family who always brought the trifle to the big family Christmas lunch. They're our neighbour who lives alone and looks forward to jumping the fence for a New Year's Eve glass of bubbles.
So, as we return our picnic baskets to the depths of the kitchen cupboard and go about planning our usual summer gatherings, how do we ask without causing offence for proof that someone is vaccinated?
Because as the Prime Minister's Department told the Herald yesterday, it's not enough to assume everyone coming to your place is double jabbed: for anyone organising a party or gathering under the new traffic light system, like businesses, party hosts are also obligated to check each attendee's My Vaccine Pass.
"The rules for gatherings under the Covid-19 Protection Framework also apply to private, in-home gatherings like parties, and, just like under alert level settings, anyone hosting a party will need to make sure they are aware of the rules and requirements."
The Herald spoke to psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald to get some tips on how to check your guests' vaccination status while remaining the ever-gracious host.
Be clear and direct
Firstly, MacDonald acknowledges this is "very much the new social norm and something we're probably all going to have to confront at some point. It's pretty much impossible to have escaped the idea that these are conversations we're going to be having."
And he says "probably most families are going to have a bit of an idea as to where people land on this.
"But I do think it's important that we just ask in as straightforward a way as possible. If it does feel a little difficult, it's okay to say, 'Look, this might be a bit awkward or difficult but I need to ask.
"The main thing in terms of approaching it is just to be really clear and direct."
Point to particular reasons for asking
MacDonald says if there are people in your family who are immune-compromised or can't be vaccinated, it's a good idea to point to those "very real" concerns.
"If there are people in your whanau that have particular health concerns, it can be good to spell that out. Because it's not just about what team you're on, whether you're pro- or anti-vaxx. It's actually very real for a lot of people in needing to protect whether it be small children or people with health conditions."
Keeping your kids safe
If you're not sure how to tell your sweet but determined-to-remain-unvaccinated old aunt who adores visiting your kids, that she can't see them this Christmas, again, MacDonald says "being really clear and direct is key."
Tell them that "until we're able to vaccinate our little ones we're being really careful."
He says in general, "with all of these conversations, it's not about making the other person aware of your rightness or their wrongness. It's about making your boundaries really clear."
Frame it with the 'this is just for now' conversation
MacDonald says it's pertinent to keep in mind and discuss with your loved one that this won't be the situation forever.
"One of the things to be framing all of this stuff, and even the awkward conversation, is that the intensity of the feelings around this at the moment are such that it's really hard to get our head around the fact that this is likely to be something that sorts itself out over time.
"We don't routinely ask people about their measles vaccine status. This is a right-now thing. Even though it's really hard to feel that, because everyone's still really anxious and worried - and rightly so - about Covid. But when we get to the point where it's all reasonably under control or there isn't a community outbreak in your particular area, I think things will be different. There'll be a lot less need to segregate people for their own safety."
So, MacDonald says it's worth acknowledging the proviso that "this is all just for now".
"It takes the heat out of it. Hopefully it counters the idea that we're going to be a divided society from now until the end of time. Which is not true. It's just how it feels now because it's all really intense and really urgent.
"Particularly with grandparents or close family where those divisions are, I think it's really important to say to people, 'This is just for now. Things will change. You might change your mind. Things are going to calm down. But for now, this is what we need to do to.'"