In her final speech as New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern was asked what she wants to be remembered for.
She responded with a single line: ‘As someone who always tried to be kind.’
For more than two years New Zealanders were locked out of their own country as Ardern imposed some of the harshest Covid restrictions in the world.
Like many New Zealanders living overseas, I will not remember this time as a display of her trademark brand of kindness and empathy.
I moved to Sydney with the understanding that I was always a three-hour flight away from my family in Wellington, but like the vast majority of expats I was unable to return home for more than two years.
This really hit home for me when my mother, a mental health nurse, was kicked down the stairs by a patient and suffered a devastating concussion, and Ardern’s draconian border closures meant I couldn’t be there for her when she needed me most.
In a staggering human rights violation, New Zealand citizens overseas had to apply to enter their own country, with a small number of places only available via an online lottery system.
More than 50,000 Kiwis applied to gain entry every month, but only 5,000 were let in.
And then, once you won a place, you’d have to pay more $3,100 to stay at a government-run quarantine hotel for 14 days, where the Army guarded the entrances to ensure no one left.
Detainees were only allowed out of their room for just one hour a day – usually for a walk around the hotel’s carpark.
But those rules, which we were told were absolutely necessary to stop the spread of Covid and save lives, didn’t apply if you were rich or a sports star.
A loophole allowed the wealthy and the political elite to avoid hotel quarantine completely by travelling to New Zealand on private jets and then self-isolating at home.