This is the day everyone knew might come. But even as New Zealanders watched the rest of the world fall victim to terror attacks and hate crimes, we hoped we might still be immune, protected by our distance from the rest of the world.

We were not – and we can only grieve for what we have now lost as a nation. 

New Zealand’s terror threat level has been lifted to high for the first time in its history, in the wake of what is now formally being described as a terrorist attack

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Smaller planes whose passengers don’t pass through security checks have been grounded and border security has been tightened.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison called it a right-wing terrorist attack, and described himself as “numbed” that such an attack could happen in a place like Christchurch.

The sickening stream of material released by the alleged shooter on Facebook and Twitter, some of it also emailed to senior government ministers and newsrooms within minutes of the attack, was a chilling manifesto of terror, violence and hate. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern called it one of New Zealand’s darkest days and no one will disagree.

Senior ministers and staff seen at parliament in the immediate aftermath of the shooting looked shaken. Officials streaming into Police National Headquarters for a meeting of the high level Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Coordination (Ocdesc) were grim and silent.

The group of senior chief executives from the security intelligence service, foreign affairs, department of prime minister and cabinet, civil defence and others is only ever convened in times of crisis and when national security is under threat.

In the immediate aftermath the focus will be on supporting the victims and the grieving families of the 49 people confirmed dead, and the more than 20 who were injured. But there will be questions over the coming days over whether we had sufficient warning systems in place.

The alleged shooter had posted disturbing material on Facebook in advance of the attack. Yet the prime minister confirmed neither he nor his associates were on any watch lists and appeared not to have attracted attention from the police.

There will also be questions about whether this is a turning point in how we view ourselves as a nation.

Even the attack on Green Party co-leader James Shaw in a Wellington park just 24 hours earlier is being seen in a new light in the wake of the tragedy in Christchurch. No one is saying the attacks are linked, but the incident had already sparked questions about whether we are too complacent about the security of our public officials.

Senior cabinet ministers are often seen walking to work unprotected – one former finance minister was like clockwork on his morning coffee run; former finance minister Bill English regularly went for runs around Wellington’s Thorndon hills.

Only the prime minister receives police protection; other MPs and ministers take it for granted that they can move around the country freely.

They won’t be alone in questioning whether everything has changed how.

That is a question the rest of us will be asking as well.

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