There's a fine line between behaving responsibly, in recognition of the greater good, and kow towing to government edicts regarding what we are and are not allowed to do. Where the majority of New Zealanders fit into that spectrum is a matter for debate. Some say we have been too easily frightened into complying with measures designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and continue to be frightened, as a deliberate political ploy, while the majority seem to deplore the insistence a handful of returnees to this country to assert their rights by escaping from quarantine, for reasons ranging from the urgent need to shop at a supermarket to attending a funeral.
The escapees, so far, have been few in number, and, as far as we know, have not spread Covid-19. Statistically, those who have returned from overseas are unlikely to be infected, but some are, and the stakes are incalculable. If the virus does get out into the community the entire country could pay a price that is beyond all imagining.
Many Americans are still grappling with that dilemma, in a country where, judging by what we see and read, citizens are much more au fait with their constitutional rights to do as they please than they are with any concept of the greater good, or even to recognise a crisis when they see one. Despite the increasing spread of Covid-19 in some states, the perceived rights of the individual continue to hamper efforts to bring it under control, bolstered perhaps by Benjamin Franklin's warning that any society that will give up a little liberty to gain a little security deserves neither and will lose both.
It's a different story in this country, where few of us seem prepared to quibble about a comparatively heavy-handed government approach to protecting ourselves and others against widespread death and economic devastation, although there has been the odd exception. A 37-year-old woman and her children, who returned from Brisbane last week for the funeral of her former partner, the children's father, added their names to the list after allegedly forcing a window in their Hamilton hotel and clambering over a fence, an hour before they were apparently to be told that their request for a quarantine exemption had been granted.
The mother wasn't the first to criticise what she described as a heartless compassionate exemption system, albeit with less reason than some, or to claim that she and her children did not pose a health risk to anyone, although she had, and still has, no way of knowing that. One point she has not belaboured in her defence is that her application for exemption was being reviewed, with a decision, expected to be favourable, due at 8pm on Friday, one hour after she and her children went over the wall.
For "five long days and nights," she said on social media, she had done her best to follow the law and its procedures, adding that "Shit needs to change no family should go through this.
"I didnt premeditate nothing after all the efforts made applications, phone calls to health and government officials, mps, requests within reason, plans implemented and put forward and structured to uphold the covid safety health precautions and have the defence force and police back my applications you still said no," she wrote.
"5 long days and night I did my best to follow the law and its procedures went about things the right way this time round, sleepless night preparing applications how the hell u say it was premeditated to come from Brisbane to escape. Yeah I really planned to go to jail and ruin my life after I've spent so long rebuilding it. If that was the case I would have gone day 1."
While it might be difficult to summon much sympathy for this family, especially the mother, over the laying of charges that could see her, at least, imprisoned for six months and/or fined $4000, it does seem a little punitive perhaps that, with an exemption in the mail, as it were, they were still treated as though they represented a significant and immediate public health risk. It had apparently been decided to allow them out, under strict conditions, after all.
Harsh as the post-breakout response might seem, however, few will have any pity whatsoever for anyone who comes to this country, knowing full well that they will be expected to comply with a quarantine system, and who fails to do so.
But while this family hogged the headlines, there might well be more alarming issues to address, including last week's allegations that some nurses were effectively moonlighting, doing their shifts at the hospital of their employ, putting in a shift at a quarantine hotel, then returning to their hospital wards. If that is true, these nurses must represent a far greater risk of letting Covid-19 out of the bag than this family ever did.
At least the quarantine rules are about as clear as any official dictates are ever likely to be, even if the government took a while to actually start enforcing them, as it said, erroneously, it had been doing from the outset. The same can't be said for former Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway, whose widely unlamented political demise shows that the goal posts can be moved while we aren't looking.
Far be it for this newspaper to defend a man who might count himself fortunate for not giving rise to a criminal charge of impersonating a Cabinet Minister, whose ineptitude was remarkable even within a government that has made ineptitude an art form, but he has some grounds for feeling aggrieved.
It was an affair with a staff member that did for him, but his infidelity wasn't the problem. The issue, it seems, was an imbalance of power, a fancy way of saying that his paramour was of lower status than he, despite general acceptance that the affair was consensual. The days of lords of the manor preying on scullery maids are over, and had he observed that nicety he might have been embarrassed but his job would have been secure. Such is the morality of the 21st Century.
It has been observed over recent days that Parliament can represent a stern test for any marriage, and that Lees-Galloway is hardly an exception. He is certainly in illustrious company, some politicians of much greater talent than he having succumbed to temptation in years gone by. Former Prime Minister Rob Muldoon was widely regarded as having a wandering eye, and his successor, David Lange, had a lengthy relationship with his speech writer, Margaret Pope, beginning before the end of his first marriage.
Perhaps we were more tolerant in those days, but it is difficult to imagine any scrutinising of any public figure's peccadilloes purely to ensure that the parties were of equal status, and passing judgement accordingly.
Even Jami-Lee Ross had the sense to enter into an affair with a fellow MP, so there was no imbalance of power there. Not that that did him a lot of good.
Of course the moral standards that apply in Parliament are of little practical value in the real world, but to be on the safe side, anyone who might be thinking of sowing some extra-marital wild oats might be well advised to conduct a background check on the object of their desire first, now that we understand the fine line between a marital misdemeanour and a hanging offence.