Opinion: We all need New Zealand to reopen to the world

Maiki Sherman
Source: 1News

Our biggest city reached a massive milestone recently with 90 per cent of its eligible population fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The arrivals area at Auckland Airport.

Like an athlete during those last exhausting few kilometres of a marathon, Auckland dug deep to muster the mental strength and sheer grit needed to persevere through lockdown and get the job done.

Eased border restrictions next month and the joy of a summer Christmas with family and friends outside the Auckland boundary are now in sight.

As a nation though, the job is far from finished and the complacency in parts of the regions needs to be addressed.

Those of us living outside of Tāmaki Makaurau have had it largely easy. Lockdown this time round was the short and sharp restrictions we were promised.

"Don’t send those Aucklanders our way," quickly became a statement one would hear in the regions, if not guilty of uttering it aloud themselves.

But with rising case numbers in our smaller towns, the pressure is now on the rest of us.

Tairāwhiti DHB has the lowest double vaccination rate in the country at 74 per cent, while Northland is only slightly ahead at 75 per cent.

After almost two years battling the pandemic and feeling as though we’re on a treadmill to nowhere, there is light at the end of the tunnel worth working towards.

Having travelled to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates last week to cover the World Expo 2020 – the stark reality of what it means to live with Covid-19 in a largely positive way was exhilarating.

Built on golden desert over just six years came a remarkable new city with roads and infrastructure to cater to the thousands who would visit each day and view the modern pavilions representing over 190 countries.

It was an opportunity for new trade relationships to be formed and the exchange of cultures, tastes, sights, and smells.

International travel is a privilege and certainly not available to everyone, but it’s important to remember the doors of the world swing both ways. New Zealand’s own borders have been largely closed for what seems like eons. Our hospitality and tourism industries have been brought to their knees with thousands of jobs lost.

We all need New Zealand to reopen to the world.

We are a nation descended from voyagers which boasts a plethora of cultures and communities – we are the opposite of the hermit kingdom many fear we are becoming.

Aotearoa was built on the foundation of two peoples meeting, the shaking of hands and the sharing of breath. Sure, the latter may change, but the need for personal connection and to form relationships which bound across oceans still burns truer today than it did all those years ago.

Re-entering the rest of the world however can be scary. As I contemplated with family the perceived risks of travelling abroad during a global pandemic, the fear of catching the virus was front of mind. Was it safe or was I stupid? Either way it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and a novelty in the current climate.

On the plane with my camera operator, a stopover in Kuala Lumpur to pick up more passengers meant the reality of international travel was upon us. A melting pot of nationalities filled out the empty seats like last night’s leftovers packed into an air-tight container.

And then it happened. The passenger sitting between me and the cameraman sneezed without their mask on. Simultaneously paralysed while also trying to play it cool, there was an internal shriek of desperation for hand sanitiser in order to douse ourselves in an anti-bacterial shield.

Arriving in Dubai though, any hint of apprehension melted away quicker than my makeup in the Middle East heat. The UAE has a population of around 10 million with active Covid cases sitting at around 3,100.

Dubai was one of the first cities in the world to adopt the lockdown method, but the real clincher is the country’s vaccination rate. While working in Dubai last week around 99.2 per cent of the population had at least their first dose of the vaccine. Today, that figure sits at 99.9 per cent. Meanwhile around 90 per cent are fully vaccinated.

A high vaccination rate meant a sense of normality. No social distancing, no scanning QR codes, and no vaccine passports in sight. The only real restriction was the high level of compliance required with mask wearing.

Being in Dubai confirmed that in many ways New Zealand is in fact at the back of the queue.

Where they are relaxed and without restriction, we in turn face roadblocks and requirements at every corner. New Zealand has been slow to adapt new technologies and only now have we seen vaccine passports introduced and wider use of critical rapid antigen testing.

The onus of shifting up a gear and out of cruise control rests with the Government and various ministry departments.

But equally, most other New Zealanders also have a key role to play.

Until we get our vaccination rates up there is no escaping the humdrum presence of Covid-19.

Continuous pictures of nasal swabs and vaccination needles piercing through skin replayed by the media, and the religious and typically tedious 1pm news conferences at Parliament will continue.

There will be no relief.

The Prime Minister has said time and time again that if we want to enjoy life as it once was – vaccination is the quickest way to do that. One only needs to step outside our hermit bubble into the rest of the world to realise that.

So, get vaccinated, New Zealand. And more importantly, encourage others to do the same.

There’s a whole wide world out there and we’re missing it.