Long live Helen Clark

Dr Oliver Hartwich
Insights Newsletter
9 July, 2021

We all wish Helen Clark a long life. At the same time, that prospect makes us nervous.

This week, the former Prime Minister was quoted in an interview with Rob Fyfe. “She was saying she does not expect life to be back to normal, as we previously knew it, in her lifetime,” Fyfe said.

Two things are scary. First, Clark knows what she is talking about. She co-chairs the World Health Organisation’s Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. And second, Clark is only 71.

According to a Statistics New Zealand calculator, a woman born in 1950 can expect to reach 90 on average.

That would mean no normality until at least 2040. So here is a run-through of our long path to normal.

2021: The final Pfizer vaccine shipment arrives on Boxing Day. The Covid response minister celebrates the delivery five days ahead of schedule.

2022: After the delta and epsilon variants of 2021, the ultra-contagious zeta mutation has experts worried. The border remains closed.

2023: The Ministry of Health secures planning permission for its own Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities.

2024: The government is satisfied most border workers are now routinely tested after each quarantine breach.

2025: Delayed by workers and materials shortages, construction of the new MIQ buildings starts. After Australia lifted its last Covid restrictions, New Zealand suspends the travel bubble – too risky.

2026: New Zealanders learn the Greek alphabet as zeta, theta and iota variants circulate in the world outside. It remains too dangerous to open the border, and the new MIQ facilities are not ready anyway.

2027: The lambda variant requires a different vaccine. The health minister assures the public that New Zealand will be at the front of the queue once again.

2028: The sports minister decides not to send athletes to the Los Angeles Olympics. With millions of people gathering, L.A. is too dangerous a place for Kiwis.

2029: The MIQ facility opens and closes again immediately because of air conditioning problems. The omicron variant sends Auckland into a six-months lockdown.

2030: The new vaccine arrives, but it is only 98 percent effective against the new rho and sigma variants. New Zealand is not taking any risks. The army starts a rebuild of the abandoned MIQ facility.

2030s: The decade is a repeat of the 2020s. By the end of it, we reach chi, psi and omega. But where is the new upsilon vaccine?

2040: The border remains closed. The government considers saliva testing as the solution. The New York Times celebrates New Zealand’s zero Covid tradition.

Helen Clark turns 90. She is in good health and feels vindicated. Happy birthday!

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