The last time I shared thoughts on my home nation’s attempt to wrestle the pandemic into submission, it was early August and New Zealand’s celebrated prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, had just announced the first real roadmap to the country reopening its borders. As a New Zealander abroad, I could entertain the possibility of seeing my family and friends again soon. I was hopeful.
Less than a week later, the first occurrence of the Delta variant appeared in the community (somehow escaping the fortnight of mandatory hotel quarantines) and the country was placed in level-four lockdown – a measure not seen since April 2020. The roadmap was paused and I had to deliver the news that I wouldn’t be joining my friend’s groom’s party in January. Our version of a so-called “second wave” was in full swing and the old joke that New Zealand is always a few years behind the rest of the world endured. Since May 2021, the nation has fallen from 1st to 38th in Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking, now sitting below mainland China, the US, Brazil and, most notably, Australia.
On Friday, Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced that international travel for the country’s citizens will reopen next month for states that have reached an 80 per cent vaccination rate. While I rejoice for our South Pacific cousins, the announcement doesn’t fill me with the sort of hope I experienced in August. My trepidation hinges on the fact that New Zealand has time and again taken cues from Australia on how not to act during the pandemic. And so, while the freedoms awarded across the ditch might pressure Wellington to offer similar liberties, there’s also a good chance that it will be seen as another cautionary tale if, or more likely when, cases start to tick up. The Kiwis’ approach – a refusal to acknowledge that a world devoid of this particular virus is unlikely to exist again – is an increasing source of frustration. But my country’s hard-line elimination strategy seems likely to rumble on nevertheless.