Time is running out for the government to get its act together in coming up with and implementing a clear strategy and pathway out of lockdowns and other restrictions around the pandemic.

Starting out with clear decisive action following the arrival of Covid-19 on New Zealand shores in February 2020, the government earned the world’s accolades for its deft management of the initial outbreaks with its “go hard, go early” mantra. New Zealand was the poster child on how to beat the virus for well over a year, enjoying the freedoms that were denied to most countries around the globe.

That perhaps made the administration a bit too smug. The arrival of the Delta variant in August this year caught the government completely off guard, exposing the many chinks in its armour, causing it to ultimately let go of its much-vaunted elimination strategy, something nation after nation had been giving up because of the different reality of the Delta variant.

And no one ought to be blamed for this state of affairs other than the government itself. It let the pesky virus get the better of all of us New Zealanders because of a mix of misplaced altruism, smugness at its early achievement, delays in taking a raft of vital decisions and even perhaps a tinge of hubris.

Having dithered all along in correcting its woefully inadequate and leaky managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system, its unconscionably delayed vaccine rollout plan, its confused tinkering with the alert level system and its callous MIQ booking system for returning Kiwis, effectively shutting them out of their homeland, the government still can’t find its bearings in setting out a clear path out of this pandemic.

Add to this its long-muddled immigration system that has kept more than a thousand vitally-needed health professionals from taking up roles in an already inadequate intensive care system which is feared to run out of capacity shortly not just because there are not enough ICU beds in the country, but also because there are no qualified staff to run them mainly because these professionals have been stuck overseas, unable to return either because of the broken MIQ system or because of their immigration status.

In its attempt to almost hermetically seal New Zealand’s borders to protect us from Delta, the government has only succeeded in sealing it for New Zealanders wishing to return home and desperately needed health and intensive care workers – while allowing Delta to infiltrate into the community no thanks to its leaky quarantine system comprising unfit-for-purpose hotels often situated in busy urban areas.

Now the government has not only all but abandoned the elimination strategy, but it also appears to be abandoning the uber cautious, almost doom and gloom advice of its modellers. Recent pronouncements appear to indicate that the government is set to part its ways with the idea of basing its entire pandemic response based on health advice.

Quite clearly, realpolitik is beginning to kick in. Auckland, the country’s economic engine, is clearly fed up with the government’s non-strategy and continued dithering especially when they see the entire world including states across the ditch are opening up even though new cases are rising. It serves no one to keep the world shut when that in no way is going to help keep the virus away.

The government has no choice but to open up – the question is when. The National Party has thrown the gauntlet by declaring that it would open up on December 1. It will be interesting to see how the government responds with its Friday announcement.

While opening up is one thing, the government must also declare convincingly what its mitigating measures will be as cases undoubtedly begin to mount and put increasing pressure on the health system.

Clearly, time is running out for this government. Friday, today, is D-day.