A few days before the Auckland border restrictions were lifted, a Christchurch-based relative, a medical specialist, texted me, "There is a southern perception of the impending zombie apocalypse heading their way! Sad but predictable."
There is no doubt Covid-19, in all its incarnations, has created and exacerbated social divisions in our country. The 10 per cent of the eligible population who, for whatever reason, are unvaccinated now find their civil liberties drastically curtailed. They can go to the supermarket or doctor but virtually everywhere else are forced to stand outside in the street, forbidden entry.
Under the red and orange settings of the traffic-light system, the rest of us are constantly asked by retailers and restaurateurs for our vaccine passes, we wear face masks in public and we should scan in at commercial locations.
Several hundred thousand New Zealanders living abroad cannot freely get back here unless they take the chance in a lottery to maybe get access to the country. If we travel overseas, we face a term of isolation in a guarded MIQ facility on our return.
In short, we have lost our basic right of freedom of association in return for a measure of security against the dire health effects of Covid-19. Most of us have put up with the restrictions, believing they would be eased and then eliminated once the country was as highly vaccinated as possible. With the rate nationwide now hovering near 90 per cent, we could reasonably assume the time to ease the restraints is now. Apparently, it is not.
Aucklanders must wait until New Year's Eve before transitioning from the red light to orange. Unless, of course, they join the "zombie apocalypse" and scarper south.
All that, of course, is subject to you being vaccinated. If you are not, a police checkpoint might pick you up and, presumably, send you home to Auckland again.
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A decision on resetting the traffic-light settings will probably not be made until at least January 17. Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has indicated the self-isolation system for returnees may remain in place for the whole of 2022.
Even if the country (or most of it) eventually gets to green-light status, it will still be subject to restrictions, such as showing your vaccine pass at hospitality venues, gyms and various gatherings.
Until now, most of us have been willing to put up with the Government restrictions, but if they extend too far into next year, that consensus will erode.
A cynic might argue that it is in the Government's interests to keep Covid-19 firmly in the public eye because that means voters are distracted from damaging issues such as the national debt ballooning, rising inflation and interest rates, and house prices exploding to obscene levels. More likely is that the Government is simply being overly cautious, especially as the threat of Omicron hovers on the horizon.
However, unless the Government begins a steady process of easing the restrictions, heading towards their elimination, early next year it will lose the agreement and approval it currently has with a large chunk of the population. Already, both National and Act are hammering this issue, asking why Auckland must linger a couple more weeks in the red light and why the South Island cannot go green. These are good questions.