That the government has shifted goalposts many times in its Covid-19 response management is not new; however, Omicron's emergence on the scene is exacerbating concerns like never before, especially for migrant communities and travel denied New Zealanders.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced a host of changes on Tuesday, December 21, to bolster NZ's defences against the Omicron variant of Covid-19 – including pushing out changes to border rules until the end of February.
The decision to delay reopening the borders has dealt another blow to New Zealanders stuck overseas and desperate to return home.
This announcement has come across as another example of the now much-known fact that nothing this government has said or announced earlier means anything as it can be changed without much regret or sharing of responsibility of accurate planning.
It was an announcement that no one wanted to hear in this Christmas season. Only a few weeks ago, the government had almost reluctantly ended one of the longest lockdowns that Aucklanders have endured by shifting the country from the previous Alert Level system to the new Traffic Light System Covid-19 protection framework.
The government had then announced with much fanfare that lockdown would be a thing of the past under the new system and affirmed that the planned border opening would continue in a staged manner.
As it turned out eventually, the government has already shown that it was not prepared and ready to stick to an announcement that it has made earlier for allowing vaccinated Kiwis to return from Australia while managing any additional potential risk that may emanate from the escalation in numbers of Omicron infected cases.
It is this lack of preparedness to even tolerate, manage and mitigate some minimal risk to restore some semblance of normalcy for an extended period of time that frustrates many New Zealanders.
Indeed, there are many positives in the government's overall public health management response in the last two years that have saved many precious lives in NZ, especially amongst vulnerable communities.
However, equally, on the other hand, governments stated overly cautious response had escalated the level of human miseries for a large number of people connected with NZ, including Kiwis living at home, Kiwis stuck overseas, and obviously migrant communities.
The wellbeing of migrant communities is often the last priority for governments, as it struggles to marshal scant resources or options and make them available first to their own citizens before temporary visitors.
In that regard, undoubtedly, this government had shown some compassion and care for temporary migrants and visitors who were stuck onshore when the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly descended upon us in March last year.
However, it has failed miserably to provide certainty, especially in terms of guarantees of extending the visas of those unfortunate temporary migrants who were caught on the wrong side of NZ's closed borders by the stroke of luck.
Tens of thousands of temporary migrants who have invested thousands of dollars in studying, working, and building a life in NZ remain cut out from NZ without any signs and assurance of being considered compassionately when all this madness ends.
Naively, they were watching the decisions of the last few weeks, ranging from 90 percent vaccination, the opening of lockdown staged plan for border-reopening, and the promise made by the government that the lockdown will become a thing of the past with a sense of falsified hope, that finally, this government will get some mental-bandwidth to respond to their plight.
That false sense of hope will come crashing down, as the government once again demonstrates that it is refusing to come out of its seemingly besieged mentality in handling the pandemic.
If the government has pushed the January 17 deadline for opening MIQ-free return of Kiwis from Australia, just at the beginning when Omicron is rampant overseas, then to expect that the government will stick to April 30 deadline to allow all vaccinated Kiwis to travel to NZ is a tall order.
It is not to suggest that the government should become oblivious to the new variant rampant overseas and lower its defences against the virus onshore.
Rather it is to suggest that the government should pace its response according to the "real threat" knocking at our doors, than responding disproportionately to mere "perceived potential threats."
It is this variance in the government's level of thinking in managing Covid-19 that had kept NZ aloof and disconnected from the rest of the world in previous months when the rest of the world was pacing its efforts in restoring connections.
A case in point is that when the Delta outbreak happened in Auckland in August this year, catapulting the city and the country into one of the strictest lockdowns of the world, the rest of the world, at least the developed world, had slowly come out of lockdowns and enjoying both – unrestricted domestic freedom and unfettered overseas travel.
New Zealanders, on the other hand, first were denied international travel (inward return has been more problematic) for almost two years of this pandemic and then had to cede domestic freedom for an extended period of time.
All this without New Zealand's health system not having been overwhelmed even once during the pandemic.
Migrant communities, especially the new migrants and temporary visa holders with strong family connections overseas, have already lived in an emotional cage, with no opportunity for a family reunion, would be further disheartened to see that the government has no intention to keep its promise of border reopening.