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Vigilance at the border essential


In a virus-stricken world, New Zealand is looking like a rare safe haven and thousands of Kiwis are streaming home — in the process creating problems for what was an ill-prepared isolation regime at the border.

The reverse diaspora has seen the country's managed isolation facilities stretched to the limit, with fresh locations being established in Rotorua and Hamilton as Auckland puts out the No Vacancies sign.

A review has shown a system that is not broken but under extreme pressure. Already $80 million of the $300m allocated to pay for people returning has been spent, and the rest will go comparatively soon.

Nobody would reasonably dispute the right of New Zealanders to come back here but there is some angst over taxpayers footing all the bill; Cabinet is set to discuss potentially requiring a contribution this week.

The other side of the issue is that there has been a steady stream of new Covid cases detected among those in isolation, as well as the two sisters who tested positive while on compassionate release. Public trust has taken a knock with the recent testing fiasco and there are fears more cases could get through, restarting community transmission.

Our geographic isolation and the fact we have no land borders is to our advantage, but vigilance has to be a lot higher than it was.

There are also more risks than Covid-19 to consider if a bleak report from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, among Cabinet papers released last Friday, is to be believed.

MFAT sees a threat to global liberal interests with the UN failing, protectionism rising and the countries that once led the free world abdicating that responsibility — and this was before the new coronavirus struck. Fallout from this virus could lead now to governments collapsing, people being driven from their homes and a rise in violent terrorism. Also, the fight against climate change could be put on hold leading to more instability.

It is a depressing world picture, which tended to overshadow some major developments in New Zealand last week such as the light rail connection to Auckland Airport, a key plank in Labour's 2017 election policy, now dead in the water, at least for now, thanks to the intransigence of Winston Peters.

Never mind, there was one huge piece of good news. New Zealand and Australia have won the right to host the 2023 FIFA women's world cup, the biggest female team sport event in the world. Someone else wants to come here.