With retail stores set to open in Auckland today, I feel less relieved and more conflicted.
As hospitality continues to bear the brunt of this response, my belief in collectivism disables my ability to feel anything less than torn. Opening retail is a step in the right direction, there's no doubt about it, but it's still not enough.
I distinctly remember where I was when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivered her first address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. It was September 2018 and, coincidentally, I was sitting outside my gate at La Guardia airport (remember airports?), returning home from a business trip.
Ardern's speech was playing on a nearby television and I can still recall some of the comments from other travellers. "Wow, what a country…", "How do we get a visa to New Zealand?", "Did you know she's a mother, too?". I felt an overwhelming sense of pride wash over me. I've always been a proud Kiwi, but as I boarded my flight and showed my New Zealand passport to the waiting attendant, I'll admit I walked a little taller.
Despite our modest size and geographical isolation, we've always punched above our weight. We are an island nation of firsts. The first to grant women the right to vote; the first to split the atom; the first to climb Mt Everest; the first to have a transgender MP and that's before I start listing our sporting record. Our remoteness has only ever added to our stock of values.
As Ardern so aptly put it in her 2018 speech: "Our isolation has not made us insular. In fact, our engagement with the world has helped shape who we are." And there it was. The word that has come to represent so much of what the past 18 months of Covid-19 has looked and felt like for Kiwis: Insular.
There is no upside in looking backwards, we've all wasted enough time this year torturing ourselves with retrospection. But my Dad always says: "It's what you do next that counts." Which is why I'm writing this.
Many have advised me against publicising my thoughts for fear of negative reactions. But this has only emboldened me. The Covid-19 response must not turn into an Orwellian experience where Kiwis cower and lose the ability to debate - a hallmark of our New Zealand identity. I want to be on the right side of history and I want New Zealand to be too.
As our team of 5 million have sought to protect ourselves from Covid-19 we have given up our liberties, shrunk our businesses, closed our schools, heeded our public health warnings in the belief that our government has a clear plan and certain end point.
However, I fear we've lost sight of who we are, and isolationism now stands to erode the very fabric of our nationhood. The long-term ramifications of becoming separated and divided will not just be devastating mentally, but economically.
Historically, doing business in New Zealand has been attractive to international investors because of our world-class innovation that arguably exists because of our unique perspective and vantage point.
But when a person spends consecutive months surrounded by fearmongering and arbitrary borders, too afraid to connect, one loses perspective. It starts to warp and become distorted.
Tell me honestly, who will want to do business with that person?
New Zealand is steadily approaching 80 per cent of our eligible population being fully vaccinated - one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. It's worth asking ourselves whether the coercion required to reach the last 10 per cent will be worth the loss of economic value and mental robustness, so important for our country going forward.
In my own life I've seen marriages torn apart, friendships tarnished, jobs lost, and mental health challenges of devastating proportions. Surely, we have reached the zone of diminishing returns.
Before Covid-19 engulfed us the Prime Minister said herself that the success of a country must not be measured on GDP alone. Instead, it must also be measured on social and environmental outcomes. On material deprivation, child poverty, and the sustainability of our planet for future generations.
Therefore, shouldn't the roadmap out of our current situation be one that goes beyond the Ministry of Health modellers?
If, like my Dad said, it's what we do next that counts, then isn't it time we said enough?
December 1, let's open up. No traffic light system, no "us" against "them".
No mandates, separation or segregation.
I can tell you one thing for certain: Maggie Marilyn has always been a brand that meets people where they are, a brand that doesn't cast judgment or exclude those with differing views or vaccination statuses, and we sure as hell won't start now.
• Maggie Hewitt is founder of global clothing brand Maggie Marilyn.