So we’ve done it. We have got COVID under control. We have no community transmission and only 18 active cases, all in quarantine, caught at the border. We have done what very few other countries have managed to do. We can truly describe New Zealand as COVID free.

This was the aim of the prime minster, with her harsh lockdown. She wanted to eliminate the virus and she has done it. She can grace the pages of international newspapers and receive godly praise; St Jacinda has saved us all from certain death.

Those that praise her have bought into the lie that we would have the deaths of 80,000 citizens on our hands if we did not lock down in the way we did. It is becoming obvious now that those numbers were grossly exaggerated, although it is fair to say that none of us really knew that at the time. We were screaming for Jacinda to close the borders in early March, as it was clear that was the only way to slow the spread of the virus. There were doomsayers everywhere. We were all going to die. But – thankfully (no disrespect intended to any of the victims of the virus) – only 22 people died in the end.

The trouble is that Jacinda’s lofty plans came to an end once we reached Level 1. Having got there, she and her cohorts clearly have no idea what to do next… and it shows.

So much so that some of our most prominent retirees have put together a paper telling the government in no uncertain terms that it needs to move forward in opening the country up to the rest of the world, or we risk becoming prisoners in our own backyard.

Sir Peter Gluckman, former Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Air New Zealand chief Rob Fyfe have co-authored a paper saying New Zealand needs to start the process of working out how the country can “more completely re-engage with the world”.

“We need to be thinking about defining our longer-term strategy. Is New Zealand prepared to hold itself in its state of near-total isolation for the indefinite future?” the paper asked.

Now I will admit that I have tired of Helen Clark’s continued meddling in government affairs since she returned from the UN, but in this, I think she is correct. Being familiar with the workings of government, she can see that we have no plan to return to normality and that we run the risk of becoming pariahs because we are too afraid to let the virus back in.

This has been the problem with our approach all along. We may be COVID-free, but to stay that way, we have to keep the world out, along with the significant economic consequences of that decision.

Other countries have already included partial opening of their borders as they come out of lockdown. In spite of promises to make progress on this, we don’t even have an agreement with Australia or the Pacific Islands yet, and it looks unlikely that it will happen this year.

A vaccine against covid-19 could be much further away than the hype suggested, the authors said, questioning whether New Zealand could “afford to wait out another year, two years, or even more in almost total physical isolation”.

“This is not just affecting tourism and export education, but also the many ways in which New Zealand projects and leverages its place in the world.”

It is generally believed that Jacinda is waiting for a vaccine, but an effective vaccine might be years away. Can we lock ourselves away from the rest of the world for two years or more?

Of course not. Not if we want any of the economy to survive.

New Zealanders are allowed to travel again, admittedly with the proviso that they must go into quarantine when they come back, but the prime minister is actively discouraging this idea. It seems she is afraid of the virus getting back into the country, because she clearly has no idea what to do if it does.

Unfortunately, this is typical of this hapless government. They listened hard to the health professionals when it came to controlling the virus, but that is all they had. Now, no one knows what is going to happen next… certainly not the government.

It seems we must rely on a former prime minister, a former chief scientist and a former Air New Zealand CEO to work it all out for us. What a shame the government is clearly incapable of leading us out of the pandemic and into the economic recovery stage… in other words, incapable of doing the job it is supposed to be doing.

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