This week is probably the most consequential week in the country's Covid response. The Government has officially abandoned the elimination strategy. The Beehive has now admitted we will probably never be free of Covid again.
The reality of this has hit some Kiwis hard. Social media seemed to almost mourn the end of elimination. Some said they felt "anger" and "grief". One said they felt "like pure shit just want the elimination strategy back".
The sentiment is understandable. Elimination gave us a good time. New Zealand had full sports stadia and summer festivals when the rest of the world was locked down. It kept our death rate down. The globe heaped praise on us and we felt a bit special.
But elimination isn't worth mourning. More recently, it had started holding us back. Trying to protect the fragility of 'Covid zero' meant the Government couldn't take any chances letting people into the country. The Beehive trapped tens of thousands of Kiwis on the other side of the ocean, forcing them to wait for a raffle result for MIQ rooms. It kept skilled workers out of the country, costing businesses and the economy and our health sector.
And no matter how much anyone begged them to let more people in, they couldn't because elimination meant they couldn't afford to take chances.
Now finally - thankfully - that low-risk approach is over.
This is not a column wishing death and illness on anyone. I lost my grandmother to Covid in July, so I know as well as anyone the sadness the virus can visit on a family. And it's not a column celebrating the arrival of something avoidable. This was unavoidable. If Covid didn't break through an August lockdown, it might've broken through a September lockdown or an October lockdown. It would definitely have broken through once the Government began reopening to the world next year. That, many experts agree on.
It's not worth mourning our unpreparedness and wishing we had higher vaccination rates first. We probably would never have had them high enough. There was no urgency to get vaccinated if there was no Covid. We turned up in dribs and drabs for the jab. The Prime Minister told us "we're not in a race to be first" to be vaccinated.
The rest of the country (and the Beehive) seemed to quietly assume Auckland would happily keep locking down outbreak after outbreak, crushing Covid back to zero every time, to continue our elimination for as long as we all desired staying Covid-free.
This outbreak snapped us out of our impossible-to-maintain fantasy. Suddenly "we're not in a race" turned into a sprint to 90 per cent. It gave Kiwis the fright needed to get jabbed. It exposed how woefully unprepared the Government was for life with Covid: no plans for rapid antigen testing, an embarrassing Auckland roadmap, a slow vaccine rollout.
In a way the end of elimination is good for New Zealand. It removes the single greatest barrier to us reconnecting with the world: keeping Covid out. If Covid is here, we don't need to fear importing it over the international border anymore. Now, the pressure is mounting on the Government to address the international border's reopening.
Where to get a vaccination in Auckland - without a booking
The Australians are planning to open NSW to the world by the middle of next month. That'll only add pressure. So will the business community, which is increasingly demanding a date for when that reopening will start. So will the Kiwis hoping to come home for Christmas, who are now much less of a threat to a country that already has Covid.
Elimination - as the Prime Minister says - has served us well. It bought us time while we waited for a jab to arrive. But too many became emotionally or ideologically attached to it. Even after the jab arrived, they weren't sure how to let it go. Now it's been taken from us and it's forcing us back into the world. That's not a bad thing.
Don't mourn the loss of elimination. Celebrate that we had it when so few others did.