It may seem an odd thing to say when in the UK we have had more people contracting Covid in recent weeks than ever before, but I think this week may mark the end of the pandemic. Numbers of cases are now reducing, and numbers of people in hospital have not reached anything like the peaks of last spring. When we look back in a year’s time I think Omicron may be seen as having been a good thing. It has given millions of people increased immunity, adding to the benefits of vaccines, without immobilising the NHS or killing vast numbers. Of course I know that every death is a tragedy, and I feel for everyone impacted, but at last can we now get back to normality?
I wonder if living more normally is one reason that the UK public have been so angry this week at the revelation that Boris Johnson attended a party in his garden, while we were in full lockdown back in 2020. Most of us have suffered materially in the past two years, whether through loss of friends and relatives, or damage to our own physical and mental health. Despite this we have got on with our lives. We have built up anger with nowhere to direct it. Now perhaps we can let that out a little. And when we find out that the likes of Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, Dominic Cummings have been ignoring or bending rules, then that anger overflows.
Personally this week I have felt a mixture of anger, fascination with the politics and some sympathy with those involved. The latter may seem a contradiction, but I do have sympathy with the civil servants who had been putting themselves at risk, working 12+ hours a day in close contact with each other to try to help this country through the pandemic. Back in May 2020 I was leading a large operational team, most of whom where working at home, but some who had to work in an office. Those people did not have alcohol or parties but sometimes they would let of steam in the grassy area outside the office. They would maintain social distance and I believe followed all rules, but to someone outside would it look as if they were taking things seriously enough? I don’t know.
In the UK we have a reputation that we can laugh at anything, smile in the most trying of circumstances, make fun of serious events. We all needed those safety valves in May 2020, as we do now. If this is truly the end of the pandemic, let’s adopt the ideas of the recently deceased Desmond Tutu, who led the Truth and Reconciliation reviews after apartheid was dismantled. Let’s try to find out the truth about what happened and how it could have been better, let’s apologise for things that were wrong. And then let’s move on.
In the summer I wrote a blog about why I thought the UK government was pursuing a herd immunity strategy by deliberately letting people get ill with Covid. I said that there was nothing wrong with this strategy but they should be honest about it.
Six months later I am convinced I was right, and if Omicron had not arrived, we would be in a good position for this winter. Unfortunately we are now faced with yet more Christmas restrictions and in some ways it feels as if we are back to square one. However, I think there are at least four reasons we should be more optimistic this time:
Vaccines do make a difference. I realise there are still some anti-vaxxers around who will call me a sheep, but I have had all three doses, and I am convinced they will help reduce the severity of any illness.
Natural immunity makes a difference. Like vaccines it may not stop people catching Omicron, but it should help reduce the severity.
We have free lateral flow tests widely available. If people are sensible and test themselves before meeting up, there is a good chance we can reduce the spread a little at least.
I am optimistic that Omicron is less severe than Delta and Alpha. I realise the government and doctors are underplaying this because they want to encourage boosters, but it does appear to be the case in South Africa, and we have always been told by virologists that at some point there would be a fast spreading weak variant, just as there was at the end of Spanish flu, a hundred years ago.
There has to be at least a reasonable chance that by February we will be through this pandemic. Covid will be with us forever no doubt, just like flu and the common cold, but after two years we could all do with a break.
I realise this is not my normal blog about how great retirement is, but it does reflect what is on my mind this week. I have been looking after my Mum in Salisbury this week, after she had ten days in hospital with heart problems. So I am just very conscious about infections.
Musically I am definitely a child of the eighties. I was student in London, working in a radio station, and top 40 music gave a background to most everything I did. My favourite two bands were Madness and Squeeze, so you can imagine my delight when a few months ago I found out they were touring together, and I excitedly bought a ticket on the day they went on sale. The concert was last Friday at the big Arena in Glasgow and as the evening approached I began to feel more and more nervous.
Omicron was already beginning to spread and in Scotland, a group of those affected had been at a concert at the same venue a week before. This was the first time I had been out to any event like this. I had been to see a couple of films at the cinema, but this was a single room with thousands of singing fans. Should I go?
Well, in the end I decided I would go. I have had all three jabs and was feeling fighting fit. I wore a mask throughout (although most did not). I stayed on the outskirts of the crowd so that I could maintain some kind of social distance. And I left before the encores so that I could get ahead of the crowd.
Was it worth it? I really did love the songs and a great show was put on. And I did not catch Covid. It is now a week later, and tests show me still clear. It was a managed risk. If I had got ill, the chances are it would have been mild.
But I spent the evening on edge. After nearly two years of pandemic we are still nowhere near back to normal. Is it time to live with this disease or is it time to stay safe? What do you think?