It has been a tough start to the year for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, but after the rain came a shaft of sun with the announcement the borders would start to reopen.
She spoke to the Weekend Herald after that announcement about that decision, as well as the drubbing she has faced in international media, the polls, the cancellation of her wedding, MIQ and what lies ahead in the Omicron response.
Jacinda Ardern's year began with Omicron arriving and she put the country into the red setting of the new traffic light. She cancelled her own wedding to Clarke Gayford, and became the first MP known to have to isolate under the new rules, after a flight attendant on her flight tested positive.
Ardern said that call to isolate had come on what was supposed to be her wedding day.
"In fact, I got the phone call about 30 minutes before I was scheduled to walk down the aisle."
"There was quite a discussion between Chris [Hipkins] and Grant [Robertson] about which one of them would have broken the news to me."
"It just, it's life. That's all I can say."
She and Gayford had already decided not to have the wedding if they moved to the red level.
"There are lots of reasons why waiting was better."
They are yet to set a new date.
As well as the Omicron outbreak here, there was a flood of negative coverage in the international media about the Government's response to it and the ongoing hardships caused by the lack of space in MIQ.
The latter was sparked by pregnant journalist Charlotte Bellis' attempts to get back from Afghanistan to have her child at home.
Asked if the flurry of international commentary had an impact on her or New Zealand's international reputation, she said she would address the New Zealand side of that question – although the two are linked.
"New Zealand's reputation is never going to be defined by one media cycle, or one story. Our reputation is more than that, and if anything, I can tell you from the engagement I have with people and leaders overseas, they almost always make the comment to me about the standout role New Zealand has had in Covid management. That, I think, will be the legacy of Covid for New Zealand.
"Single media cycles I don't think reflect New Zealand's reputation. I don't think it changes the way people see New Zealand, and the vast majority of people see it very positively."
Bellis' case attracted significant international attention and appeared to bring to a head the ever-growing unhappiness with MIQ.
Some had credited it with forcing the Government's hand on the border reopening – although it had said last year it would push that out from the original January timeframe to the end of this month.
Ardern insists the timing of the MIQ announcement was not for political reasons.
"The decisions we are making are always based on the evidence we have. We do not make our decisions based on the polls. That means I will absolutely accept the consequences of those decisions. I stand by them. We are doing it for all the right reasons.
"Of course, if the consequence of that is people feel like there is reprieve and relief then that's good too."
Those decisions were indeed taking a toll in the polls.
Those changed dramatically for Ardern after Delta arrived last August – in the latest 1 News Kantar Public Poll, Labour was about 10 points down since the end of the pandemic's first year. Ardern had dropped to 35 per cent as preferred Prime Minister – her lowest since 2017.
It was at about the same point that Sir John Key resigned as Prime Minister, saying he wanted to go on a high and that he liked to be liked.
Ardern laughs when this is pointed out. Asked if she thinks it is salvageable, she laughs again:
"Salvageable? That makes it sound as if it is terminal. I accepted a really long time ago, really early on in my career, that the right call isn't always the most popular call. Covid is that writ large. You are constantly having to make decisions that are tough and have a huge impact on people's lives. But as long as you're making them for the right reasons, then onward."
She will, however, be hoping that her announcement on Thursday that MIQ would start to disappear for returning New Zealanders and other travellers in stages from February 28 was a circuit breaker. That announcement did have something of a beginning of the end feeling to it, a sense of relief.
It marked the scale down of the MIQ system that Ardern herself said had caused the most "heartache" of any element of the Covid response for New Zealand.
But she also points out that MIQ had helped avert the bigger heartache of the death rates experienced in other countries.
MIQ had also become a big political headache for the Government and for Ardern herself.
Asked if she hoped this week's announcement would be a turning point on the siege she has been under, she said it was "a massive milestone".
"I've been thinking about this moment for a long time. I remember the moment we closed the borders, thinking about the point at which we would be able to welcome people back. Even back then I used to feel quite emotional about it.
"I reflect on my own circumstances, and one of the reasons Kiwis have been such comfortable travellers, and comfortable with having periods of our lives where we have lived abroad is because we've had the ability to come home whenever we needed to. For that to have been on pause has been such a shift in our psyche. So this is a really important moment."
The decision to push play again has always been Ardern's to make – caught between the growing cries of those caught overseas, sometimes in very distressing situations, and the significant number still at home who remained fearful of what the travellers would bring back in even after the vaccination rollout.
Ardern said when MIQ first came into being in April 2020, she did not imagine it would be two years before it started to wind down. She also points out that back then, people thought a vaccine would be five years away.
"So things have moved more quickly than we expected, but also taken longer than we expected as well."
She said there was little doubt some things would have been done differently with the benefit of hindsight. However, they could never have had limitless capacity.
"They are hugely resource-intensive. They take thousands of people to run them. Not everyone wants to work in a managed isolation facility, so the idea you could have had limitless capacity and without increasing risk, isn't the case. I think no matter what, we would have had a system with pressure in it."
The original promise had been that the vaccinations would take over as our main form of defence rather than the borders. But vaccination rates did not top 90 per cent until the end of last year, and then Omicron came along and made early boosters more important – pushing the planned January border reopening out.
She said the past month had been critical to give people the time needed to brace for Omicron.
Many have voiced scepticism about whether the Government will stick to the dates if Covid-19 throws another curveball.
Bellis is among them, telling the Weekend Herald she was now considering whether to give up her MIQ slot in early March and wait for the March 13 reopening to allow her to isolate at home. She would rather isolate at home, but the MIQ slot is certain and she fears the reopening date is not.
Ardern still has to negotiate through the Omicron outbreak. Masks, rapid antigen tests, disrupted workforces and, perhaps most of all, the natural wariness people have about it.
Although the red setting means businesses can still operate, even Finance Minister Grant Robertson has pointed to the deterrent effect that the fear of getting Covid-19 or having to isolate was having on human behaviour.
Ardern hopes that will pass.
"It's a transition and I think it is a significant one. We have been Covid-free but we have now the privileged position of having been Covid-free for the most dangerous elements of this pandemic. Now we have protection other countries did not get the chance to have and we are meeting a variant that does not pose the same risk as other variants have."
"When you look overseas, it seems to be that deterrent effect lasts for a period of time that isn't necessarily associated with the number of cases. So only time will tell, but what we are seeing overseas is people adapting, as they always do, to the circumstances they find themselves in and making risk assessments."
She is philosophical about being blamed for people's disgruntlement, saying she has long learned to accept she will wear the blame for everything from the weather and sports outcomes to Covid.
The collateral damage of Covid-19 is everywhere: inflation, house prices, her goal of fixing inequality and child poverty are all things she will now face being blamed for.
Asked if it has felt like she has been on a war footing for the past two years, she says "yes, it does".
"Like I"m still on it."
She won't say when victory might be declared, but this week was "progress".