Being Zion is a funny thing. It’s an archetypal idea, the place of refuge free from whatever threatens or contaminates the rest of the world. Chinese mythology gave us Yaochi, the Emerald Lake on Mount Kunlun, where the mother goddess resides. Hollywood zombie films typically feature a “safe zone”, or the tantalising prospect of one. And the Bible gave us Zion, David’s blessed city. To this list we can now add New Zealand , Aotearoa, “the land of the long white cloud”. In the course of the Covid-19 pandemic , New Zealand has become a real-life “safe zone”. Led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the country closed its borders in March and locked down soon afterwards. In the nomenclature of the new alert system, we went to level 4, the highest, under which most everyone except essential workers had to stay home. New Zealand begins coronavirus-free life with hugs, shopping and party plans On Monday, 75 days after initiating level 4 and after throttling down to levels 3 and 2, Ardern announced that New Zealand would now go all the way down to level 1. That’s essentially life as we knew it before we ever heard of the novel coronavirus. The move came right after the country’s last remaining Covid-19 patient recovered, and after 17 straight days of no new cases being detected. All told, the country has had 1,504 confirmed or probable cases, including 22 deaths. New Zealand is now Covid-free. There was rejoicing at the announcement. Ardern herself, when she heard that the last Covid-19 patient had recovered, “did a little dance” in her living room, in front of her toddler. Netizens were quick to parody the dance, Photoshopping Ardern’s head onto Hugh Grant’s body in the scene from the film Love Actually in which an exuberant Grant dances through 10 Downing Street. Schools have returned to normal operation. Businesses already reopened at level 2, but now there is no need even to worry about contact tracing. Signs calling for physical distancing are still ubiquitous in shopping malls, but they are suddenly relics of an earlier time. Doctors’ offices, avoided during the lockdown whenever possible, now again have patients waiting impatiently – without masks. What makes New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern an authentic leader Coffee shops have returned to tightly packed seating plans. Want to go dancing? The nightclubs are waiting. Want to see some sports? As of Thursday evening, Eden Park, New Zealand’s largest stadium, had already sold more than 35,000 tickets to this Sunday's rugby match – the first one post-lockdown. In truth, New Zealanders were already moving to level 1 with or without an official decision. Average citizens could see as easily as cabinet ministers that we were registering zero new cases each day. Ardern’s announcement didn’t so much change reality on the ground as confirm what we already knew: our “team of 5 million” had beaten this thing, at least for now. And so the shift in everyday manners from level 2 to level 1 was more gradual than abrupt. Passing strangers on the street, we already stopped making a point of sidestepping as though the other person were a leper. Supermarkets and retailers were already growing lax about enforcing distancing. In the wake of the George Floyd killing in the United States and the ensuing protests, thousands of New Zealanders participated in a solidarity march in downtown Auckland. It was a blatant violation of level 2 rules still in effect banning large gatherings. But authorities made no attempt to stop it, tacitly acknowledging that the rules were going out of date. Coronavirus: migrant groups warn of ‘humanitarian crisis’ in New Zealand as workers blocked from welfare benefits All this when global cases have surged past 7 million, and global deaths have exceeded 400,000. In a world buffeted by cataclysmic forces, the relative peace and safety of our island fortress can feel downright indulgent. Yet a vague spectre still haunts us: can elation become complacency? Being free of Covid-19 means only being free of it until the next case arrives at the international airport. In her level 1 announcement, Ardern underscored that “we are not immune to what is happening in the rest of the world”. Thus despite the talk of “normality”, one aspect of New Zealand life remains distinctly abnormal: the borders are still closed and will continue to be closed for some time to come. For the tourism sector, then, the Covid-19 crisis continues in economic terms, as its ramifications also continue to play out in the rest of the economy. Tourist towns such as Queenstown and Waitomo face the daunting reality that hardly any foreign visitors will be coming in the foreseeable future. Seemingly interminably, the government has been negotiating a quarantine-free “travel bubble” with neighbouring Australia and possibly our Pacific brethren like Tonga and Tokelau. But the parties have so far failed to arrive at concrete arrangements. Australia, New Zealand can reduce China dependence with ‘trans-Tasman travel bubble’ Our lonely fortress needs the rest of our globalised and interdependent world. No country is an island, not even an island country. Any Covid-19 death anywhere diminishes us, because we are involved in mankind. Therefore never ask whom the World Health Organisation statistics are counting: they are counting us. As proud as New Zealanders are of beating Covid-19, we don’t want to be Zion. We don’t want to be one of the handful of coronavirus-free countries in the world. We want your country to be as safe as ours, so that we can all go back to normal life – together.