Early on Wednesday morning, February 26, Air Emirates flight EK450 from Dubai arrived in Auckland. Several of the passengers on the flight had worn masks – among them, a New Zealand resident in his 60s who had been visiting Iran.
Only a week earlier, Iran had reported its first case of Covid-19, a disease caused by a dangerous new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. So before the man left for home he got himself tested. Twice. Both tests were negative.
But he wasn't well: he had a persistent cough and some trouble breathing. His family took him to hospital. The man was admitted, tested again and kept in isolation.
At 4.15pm on Friday, February 28, six months ago yesterday, the result of his third test came back. It was positive. New Zealand had its first confirmed case of Covid-19.
The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who was in Sydney, announced the news to media.
In China, where it originated, and in Iran and Italy, Covid-19 was already a pandemic. It had turned up throughout Europe and in the Americas. New Zealand, said Ardern, had a plan and it was already in place. Travel was restricted, testing was geared up.
Earlier that same afternoon, Finance Minister Grant Robertson addressed an Auckland business audience. He talked about living in "the shadow of one of the biggest uncertainties the global economy has seen in recent times". He mentioned "serious impact" but also "short term" and "rebound". He hinted at a fiscal stimulus package. He seemed to be thinking about a few hundred million dollars.
Air New Zealand and Qantas, meanwhile, were engaged in a price war. You could get a flight across the Tasman for $69.
February 28. Ireland reported its first case at the same time we did. So did several other countries, including Brazil and Nigeria.
Ireland, an island nation with the same population as New Zealand, now has 1777 recorded deaths. Nigeria, with 200 million people, has recorded only 1011. Brazil, also with 200 million people, admits to 118,000.
How well countries have managed the virus has not, fundamentally, been about their size, whether they are an island nation or any other such factor. It's about policy and practice. Did they want to keep it out and did they have the capacity to do that? New Zealand and Nigeria, so far, did. Ireland and Brazil, like Britain, the US and so many other countries, did not.
How long does six months last?
How long does six months last? Long enough for a Team of 5 Million to form, win the prize for Best Covid Response On The Planet (woo hoo!) and then start to break up, too many of its members feeling they haven't been getting enough game time. Haven't been able to share in the wins.
The Herald this week reported on a survey monitoring social media posts. Around three-quarters of the comments expressed negative views about the situation we're in now. Anxiety, it was clear, is on the rise.
It's as if the bubbles we were in first time round kept us buoyant. Not any more.
Why are we anxious? Perhaps it's because last time, we allowed ourselves to feel we could, and then did, beat the virus. We came out of lockdown with a rush, shopping and eating and visiting hair salons and barbers like they might all disappear if we didn't get in quick.
Economists called it "pent-up demand". But it was also pent-up relief, pent-up delight, pent-up confidence. People went to a favourite restaurant and felt happy. It was over.
Now we know it wasn't. This lockdown might not be the last; the border might never be safe.
So we're adjusting. Masks in public, double down on the hand-washing and social distancing, use the contact tracing app. We've been critical of the Government for not keeping us safer, but we've also been shockingly lax at looking after each other.
The anxiety is particularly high in the business world. Michael Barnett, head of the Auckland Business Chamber, says business is "carrying the burden for the team of five million".
Not all business, it should be said. Supermarkets are having a very good year. So are many exporters: in China, our biggest market, dairy is booming and meat is not far behind.
But the entire tourism industry and all who benefit from it, and big parts of hospitality, education, retail and others are in trouble. The Government responded with wage subsidies, tax breaks, loan schemes, rent assistance and other support, but the wage subsidies have now ended and many businesses do not know if or when their customers will return.
That wage subsidy was a lifeline. It cost the Government over $13 billion and supported more than 1.7 million jobs. In Auckland, 89 per cent of companies have used it.
Not everything worked as well. The Government told the banks it would underwrite $6.5 billion in loans to businesses, but the banks paid out only $150 million. Why? The banks made the scheme difficult to apply for – companies had to provide impossible forecasts of future earnings, for example – and the rejection rate was high.
The Government has learned from that and changed the way the scheme works.
But the big learning? The wage subsidy was like the Yes Game: You think you need it? Sure, here it is. With the loan scheme the banks were all "computer says no". Not entirely committed to the Team of 5 Million.
The hospitality industry, largely comprising owner-operator businesses without deep pockets, is doing it very tough. Marisa Bidois of the Restaurant Association predicts around 10-12 per cent will close, throwing around 13,000 people out of work.
"Our businesses are crying out for help," she says, "and yet we're still being denied targeted support."
Who bears the burden?
When Barnett suggested business was "carrying the burden", he was right. But it is not business alone. South Auckland carries it too.
How long does six months last? Long enough for the disease to find its way into the communities with the most to fear.
Health practitioners and the Government have turbo-charged the testing regime in Auckland, with the largely Pasifika and Māori communities of South Auckland "aggressively targeted", says Health Minister Chris Hipkins.
This was not always the target. Until the current outbreak, only 8 per cent of New Zealand's Covid patients were Māori and 5 per cent Pasifika, while 68 per cent were Pākehā and 15 per cent Asian. Those numbers reflected the demographics of the people arriving home and, perhaps, the people in retirement facilities.
But the current outbreak was first reported in a Pasifika community and as of this week, 75 per cent of cases were Pasifika and 13 per cent were Māori.
It's not genetics that makes those populations more at risk. As Auckland University public health expert Dr Collin Tukuitonga says, "It's nothing to do with the virus, it's the socioeconomic conditions."
Nearly half of Pasifika households in South Auckland are officially "overcrowded", according to research out of Massey University. If the virus gets away, the outcome could be devastating.
The people of South Auckland are also at special risk in other ways. They're disproportionately represented among the newly unemployed, and among low-paid workers on the front line of service industries and healthcare. To quote Barnett, they also "carry the burden".
So do those for whom a lockdown at home undermines their health or threatens their wellbeing. That's people at risk of family harm; the lonely and those separated from loved ones; those with mental health issues; people living in a cold house or not in a proper house at all. Also, parents with bored and angry kids.
Everyone in managed isolation or quarantine. And the people sick with Covid: on top of their health fears; look at the racist online abuse suffered by that first family in South Auckland. They did everything right when they suspected a problem, but there were some who did not care about that.
The Team of 5 Million has some rebuilding to do.
How far we have come
We can do it, though, can't we? It's been a long six months but just look how far we've come.
In the early days it was panic buying: toilet paper, pasta and, said Foodstuffs, an extra 1.5 million kilograms of flour. We rediscovered our inner bakers.
Herald headline, March 14: "How to work from home without losing your mind".
New Zealand went into level 4 lockdown at 11.59pm on March 25. The PM stressed, again, the value of kindness.
In Italy, people came out on their balconies and sang together. Here, we put teddy bears in our windows: relatable faces for kids to find and wave at. On Anzac Day the dawn service was observed at front gates all over the country.
Rents were frozen and evictions banned. The traffic disappeared and walkers and cyclists claimed the roads. In the country it was pheasants and hawks; the occasional driver had to take care they didn't run them over.
Nobody knew what would happen. Modelling by Otago University for the Ministry of Health suggested that without the lockdown, there could be 14,400 deaths.
On March 29 the Prime Minister announced that Anne Guenole, aged 73, had died of complications caused by Covid-19 at Grey Base Hospital in Greymouth. She was our first recorded death. Over the next two months there would be 21 more. Since May 28, none.
Herald headline, March 31: "Tourist complains about life in lockdown NZ".
Pornhub announced its Premium service would be free. There was a reported "surge in people seeking help for porn addiction".
Celebrity cook Chelsea Winter revealed that her "lockdown loaf beer bread" was a hit, although for some reason it didn't work with Corona beer.
Herald headline, also March 31: "Man gets magnets stuck up his nose trying to fight virus".
In early April the PM told us the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny were essential workers, making global headlines and neatly dividing the country into those who understood the hopes and fears of small children and those who just couldn't stop themselves being grumpy about it.
Herald headline, April 11: "How not to destroy your relationship during lockdown".
New Zealand reported 929 active coronavirus cases on April 6. It was the peak. By May 4 the number had fallen to zero and it stayed at or near that until August 11.
The Starlets, a group of four women in Christchurch, sang their Abba-inspired song Quarantina (Sample lyrics: "Here we go again ... yes we feel lonely hearted, but we must remain parted, why why, so this virus has to go.") and by the end of April it had been watched 1.3 million times on Facebook.
Herald headline, April 27: "Oil's dramatic collapse leaves the industry over a barrel".
Texas crude was worth -$37.63 a barrel. They had to pay people to take it away. Sharemarkets, on the other hand, including the NZX, have largely done well.
On April 28 New Zealand moved down to level 3. There were crowds at fast food outlets and the traffic was back.
A humpback whale cavorted with the Interislander ferry, right by the dock in Wellington harbour. Dolphins were spotted "flipping through the air" off Narrow Neck Beach on the North Shore. Wildlife in general had a very good lockdown.
On May 14 we dropped to level 2: life as we used to know it, but with social distancing.
Herald headline, May 30: "Monkeys attack lab technician and steal Covid-19 tests".
In early June, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro said, "We are sorry for all the dead, but that's everyone's destiny."
Herald headline, June 5: "Mike Hosking: Recession shakes out the weak and that's not a bad thing". "We need to be operating on gut instinct and courage," he said. "Not policy wonks in the public service looking to cross the last 't'."
On June 8, as a result of the science-led strategy to eliminate the virus, New Zealand was pronounced Covid-free. No one ill with the virus and no new cases for 17 days. When she heard, the PM said, she "did a little dance".
We moved to Level 1 at 11.59pm on June 9: no restrictions on ordinary life, although border controls remained in place.
Herald headline, June 9: "In awe: How world reacted to 'stunning' NZ beating Covid-19".
We went to the rugby, to parties, to music festivals. We embraced our new world and began to rebuild.
At 9.15pm on August 11, after 102 clear days, the PM announced there were four new community cases of Covid-19, origin unknown, and Auckland would be returning to level 3 the next day.
In the days that followed, we learned our border was not as secure as we had thought. We were dismayed.
The supermarkets did not report another big run on flour. We're over making our own bread. This time round, it's sewing. We've been making masks.
The big picture
How long does six months last? Long enough for shocks.
A public servant, director general of Health Ashley Bloomfield, became a TV star. That was new.
The National Party discarded not one but two leaders. Conspiracy theorists scaled the ramparts of science and civic leadership and are now doing their best to hack down all they find there. Utterly unrelated, our September election was delayed a month.
And we're living without the All Blacks. Who'd have thought. But then, who'd have thought we'd have 10 wonderful weeks of Super Rugby Aotearoa, the stadiums full of people, afternoon winter sunshine and families just like the glory days of old, the rugby so fast and fabulous it almost made grown men weep. Well, almost.
Six months, in which the Government discarded its "largest-ever" infrastructure spending programme because it was suddenly, absurdly, inadequate. The new plan has the Government borrowing $60b this year, growing over four years, according to BusinessDesk editor Pattrick Smellie, to $142.4b net.
Six months has been long enough for some numbers to become almost incomprehensible.
And yet, while Government debt will top 50 per cent of GDP, up from around 20 per cent, that's still lower than in most OECD countries even before the Covid crisis.
Six months, in which Black Lives Matter arose in fury in America, Hong Kong democracy activists were suppressed and the killer of 51 people at two Christchurch mosques last year was sentenced to life without parole. Wildfires in California, drought in Auckland. Beyonce released the "visual album" Black is King and Taylor Swift turned to folklore.
Three months ago, in level 2, we asked ourselves a lot of post-pandemic questions about "building back better". How could we transform the economy and society to become more resilient, while setting ourselves back on a path to prosperity?
What new taxes might we need to manage the massive national debt? What would we do without foreign tourists for the foreseeable? What big spending projects, especially in transport, would create good jobs and a better future?
Why does "infrastructure" dominate the spending debates when there are social services and environmental projects that also cry out for attention – and could also provide a lot of jobs? If most of the newly unemployed are women, why are most of the proposed new jobs likely to go to men?
Build back better. Did it mean a stronger public health system? Decent housing for all, because without it every other inequality – including the ability to thrive in a lockdown – is made worse?
And looming over it all, how will we integrate economic and ecological goals, knowing that our fears about Covid-19 might merely be a prologue to a fast-approaching climate catastrophe?
Now the boat is leaking
We're barely talking about any of that now. Six months down and the boat we're in is leaking, so we have more immediate concerns: plugging the holes at the border, controlling community transmission, how to help businesses on the brink of collapse.
It's not wrong. If we don't fix the those things, we will not be able to do much else. The next six months may be harder than the last.
At the end of April, as we moved down to level 3, Sir Peter Gluckman, formerly the PM's chief science adviser, said we'd done "the easiest part". He warned about the fear, anxiety and frustrations to come.
"If it feels hard right now," said Jacinda Ardern this week, "it's because it is."
So now we also search for perspective. In Victoria, population 6.4 million, they waited weeks after the current outbreak before locking down, by which time it was too late. Confirmed cases have reached 20,000 and the death rate is over 20 a day. It's a similar story in South Korea. In Venezuela, officials have labelled people with Covid "bioterrorists" and detained health workers who object.
Perspective. Our border had holes in it, but the evidence does not link those failures to the current outbreak. That reminds us: even when the system is working impeccably it can never be guaranteed. Ardern, Judith Collins and National's health spokesperson, Shane Reti, have all warned us of that.
Six months, and we know much more about how to plug those leaks. Stamp out each new outbreak as it occurs. Tighten the border with clearer, more effective lines of command. Widespread community testing, good science, fast response and thorough contact tracing. Hand washing. Masks.
Those things are happening. We are not living through a "shambles", or "chaos", or a "national disgrace", as some have said. We can and should debate the how, and whether it's been good enough. But we are living in the country leading the world to build a robust system to make elimination work. The boat is not sinking. The strategy works. Where else would you rather be?