It was going to happen sooner or later. That was my feeling tracking events overseas and the emergence of the new more contagious variants of Covid-19.
It's no surprise, as our expert epidemiologists had been warning, that Covid has again got through into the community. Shocking that it's here in Northland.
There's no one to blame. It's just the nature of what we're dealing with, and the incredible difficulty of the task.
There's too many people involved, with vast scope for something to be overlooked, like a rubbish bin lid. One false-negative test and the virus gets its chance to spread.
Many of you, like me, were probably starting to mull over the need for increased restrictions at our border.
Writing in the NZ Herald (January 22), Cecilia Robinson made a well-argued and passionate case for temporarily closing the border to returning New Zealanders (We need to shut our border, now!). Especially from countries like the UK and US, where Covid is out of control.
Plainly, such a drastic measure would reduce the risk of a new super-contagious variant escaping into the community.
From the perspective of keeping Covid out (assuming the current risk is seen off), it's cut-and-dried.
And yet it's a big call to make, to prevent New Zealanders from returning, even if temporarily. To want to return home and not be able to would be devastating. There would be many unique and personal situations that would tug at our sympathies.
None of the parties in Parliament (at the time of writing this column) have so far called for an end to flights from the UK and other hotspots of the new variant strains. This shows an understandable reluctance to take this step.
But responding to Professor Michael Baker's suggestion that we needed to move in this direction, Jacinda Ardern, on her Facebook live chat, was a little disingenuous in saying she was aware of no countries that had closed borders to returning nationals.
She must have kept up with the news over the holidays that many countries had suspended flights from the UK temporarily or indefinitely, affecting non-nationals and nationals alike.
The language might be different, but the reality of suspending flights is that you're going to find it very difficult to get from one country to another.
Ardern has been correct to point out that citizens' ability to return to their country is a basic human right.
Yet it's a difficult fact of life that different rights and principles will come into conflict. Protecting citizens from harm and maintaining a functioning health system, which some countries are struggling to do, is also a human right you want upheld.
The consequences of super-infectious variants of Covid establishing themselves in New Zealand before an effective vaccine rollout would be dire and costly. We've got this close, it would be a tragedy for things to slip now.
So what do we do?
It helps, I think, if we break the decision into two parts.
The first is whether New Zealanders should currently be able to leave and travel to other countries for work or business, and then return.
My answer is no. That's not to point blame at the woman at the centre of the current Covid threat, who I feel for tremendously, with all the scrutiny her movements have been put under.
In leaving the country for business and family reasons, she was doing what was allowed at the time.
But with the risks now evident in some parts of the world, this shouldn't continue as an absolute right. There would be general public support for the Government placing restrictions on business travel to Covid danger zones.
That leaves the other decision. Should New Zealanders currently overseas, having either left since the Covid crisis started or being resident in another country before Covid, be prevented from returning?
It would be easy to sit on the fence. But I won't do that, so I say, yes, we should close our borders to selected countries if the effective rollout of a vaccine is still months away. If it's only weeks, then we can keep the border open to all returning New Zealanders.
Months, then with a collective heavy heart, we should suspend flights from the most at-risk countries. It would be a temporary measure, put in place until we've vaccinated the 10,000 border workers and the vaccine rollout to the wider population has begun.
In taking this step, every effort should be made to reasonably assist those people prevented from returning to New Zealand - including income support if necessary while overseas and once in the country.
Kiwis trapped overseas would be taking one for the team. That should be publicly acknowledged with real compensation and public sympathy, of the kind our Prime Minister has shown herself well capable of leading.
• Northern Advocate columnist Vaughan Gunson writes about life and politics.