Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's first overseas trip in over two years could all come to a screeching halt if she catches Covid-19 during her visit to Singapore and Japan next week.
But if that happens, she isn't anxious about having to isolate overseas until she becomes well. It's just part of the new "reality" of international travel.
"The requirements as we move into these two different countries demonstrate that, very much, the pandemic continues to have an impact," she said in a pre-trip interview.
"But it's the reality of travel today. Our view is that now's the time to get out and about, to support our exporters, so we're willing to take on board the risks.
"I'm also really looking forward to it. It's a chance to promote New Zealand to demonstrate that we're reconnecting, that we're back in business."
Her trip aboard the Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757 leaves on Monday, and includes a 12-strong trade and business delegation looking to leverage Brand Jacinda to reach new consumers.
Among them are representatives from Fonterra, ANZCO Foods, Plant and Food Research, GNS Science and Zespri.
Many will announce new or updated partnerships aimed at growing primary sector and food and beverage exports, and developing sustainable energy markets.
Ardern a 'global celebrity'
New Zealand companies are also itching to show Singapore and Japanese consumers what they have to offer in the era of the CPTPP trade agreement.
"Japan has a massive middle class of consumers ... The conclusion of the 11-nation CPTPP in 2017 has ushered in a new era," a 2019 report from the Asia NZ Foundation says.
"By one estimate, 80 per cent of the value of CPTPP to New Zealand comes from improved access to the Japanese market."
Foundation executive director Simon Draper said Singapore is also getting richer and importing more goods.
"The New Zealand brand for food and beverage is up there - 89 per cent of Singaporeans rate it as high quality."
Trade with Singapore has surged in recent years and Singapore is now New Zealand's fifth biggest trading partner, right behind the fourth biggest, Japan.
While Ardern's popularity at home has predictably fallen from the historic highs of the 2020 election, her appeal abroad remains strong.
"I'm sure there will be a number of photos of the Prime Minister of Japan and Prime Minister of Singapore with Jacinda Ardern, which will partly be for their own domestic political benefit," Draper said.
Associate Professor Dr Hongzhi Gao, from Victoria University's school of marketing and international business, said Ardern was a "global celebrity in many areas - as a young, female, caring leader from a peace-loving country".
Footage of her gulping down a kiwifruit on Japanese TV could actually boost Zespri business in Japan, he said.
"It would be a good branding opportunity for Zespri. Zespri's own research finds that Japanese consumers are typically eating fruit for pleasure, not for health traditionally. In this regard, such TV footage would increase the fun bit of the kiwifruit, at least in some Japanese consumer eyes."
China, Ukraine, and how to entice the US
Ardern will also have one-on-one time with her Singaporean and Japanese counterparts, Prime Ministers Lee Hsien Loong and Fumio Kishida, to discuss China's influence in the Indo-Pacific, including its reported security deal with the Solomon Islands, as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
"The world has changed a lot, even in the last two months," Ardern said.
She has described the China-Solomons agreement as "gravely concerning".
"We'll share from our perspective that we are in an increasingly contested region. Some of the ways that we can ensure that there is resilience in our region is actually some of the economic relationships that exist in our part of the world."
Bringing more US engagement into that resilience will also be high on the agenda for her talks, including how to entice the US into the CPTPP, which would counter China's economic influence in the region.
Draper said Japan may not be on the same page about China's influence in the region, given they've been neighbours for 5000 years.
But in general, he said liberal democracies supporting multilateralism were "looking for friends" in a global landscape where nationalistic voices have grown louder in recent years.
"In this period of fragmentation, there's power in a union. We are only 5 million people so we're never going to be economically important [globally]. But it's not necessarily all about hard power. Soft power, too, is increasingly important," he said.
"The issue isn't New Zealand saying 'we want you to do XYZ' because we'd never really get that. It's about mounting the arguments. Good ideas are not the preserve of big countries."
He added that New Zealand had been far more isolated throughout the pandemic than its Asian neighbours.
"There are some really big changes going on in Asia at the moment, partly driven by Covid, partly driven by what's happening in Europe. Our foundation advisers were pretty clear that New Zealand needs to get out into the region.
"It's going to be really helpful for our leaders to get an on-the-ground sense of what's going on, and how Singapore and Japan see the region. You can Zoom and text as much as you like, but particularly in the Asian cultures, face-to-face really counts.
Open for business
Ardern is also looking to reduce New Zealand's trade reliance on China, our biggest trading partner, and diversifying trade is also a goal that Singapore and Japan share.
But the destinations next week are merely a sign of where the travel logistics lined up, rather than which international relationships the Government wants to immediately nurture.
Nor has Ardern been waiting for this stage in the pandemic to set foot overseas.
The spread of Delta in Australia saw her cancel a trip to Australia in the middle of last year. She was then prepared for a 14-day MIQ stay following a planned trip to Europe in November, but cancelled it to front the response to the Delta outbreak in Auckland.
Ardern and her entourage will still have to navigate the Covid requirements in each country. She will need a negative pre-departure test before arriving in Singapore, where she will need to wear a respirator mask while indoors and adhere to limits on group sizes.
She will then need a negative PCR test or she won't be allowed into Japan, and she'll have to isolate in Tokyo until her PCR test on arrival comes back negative.
And she'll need a negative test before coming back to New Zealand.
As she looks to head to Europe, the US and Australia later this year, she shrugs off these requirements as the new reality of international travel - but is prepared for disruption.
"No matter what, there'll be other opportunities, and that will be a big focus for us in 2022. This is the year that we will be back out re-engaging face to face, or mask to mask."
The return to travel has also meant that Ardern has had to renew her diplomatic passport: "I can assure you I have a bad passport photo, like every other New Zealand citizen."
There are also tourism opportunities, not only because of where we are in the global pandemic as borders open up, but because of New Zealand's handling of it.
"They are aware of New Zealand's Covid response, and the majority view New Zealand more positively as a result of it. Now's the time to leverage that," Ardern said.
Japan and Singapore are visa waiver countries, so are welcome to fly to New Zealand from May 2 without any isolation or MIQ requirements.
Ardern cited research, from government agency NZ Story, showing roughly three-quarters of Singaporeans who had been to New Zealand and heard of our Covid response now viewed the country more positively.
"This is an opportunity for us to be out there talking about the fact that New Zealand's borders are open.
"Come to New Zealand and you'll have a great experience because we look after our people - and those people who visit us too."