I wish everyone all the best for 2022. My final column of 2021 is once again about the COVID pandemic I’m afraid. In my view 2022 really must be the year where we permanently turn our backs on the kind of illiberal and draconian restrictions we’ve all had to endure at various points over the past 20 months.
Though I’m pleased the Prime Minister hasn’t taken the same path as many other countries (including Scotland and Wales) in introducing lockdown type restrictions this month, even the threat of further restrictions and the return of the Covid cloud over the past month or so has had major consequences for the mental health of millions of people up and down the country. I would even hazard a guess that for some, they’ve actually found the mental health consequences of the past month as bad as – if not worse than – during the dark days of full-on lockdowns.
Personally, I found the last lockdown bearable due to the emergence of the vaccine. I remember in the dark days of lockdown last year, seeing the images of Margaret Keenan, the 91-year-old Brit who became the first person in the world to receive her Covid vaccine, symbolising hope. Living through the lockdowns was tough but at least we all felt there was a definite light at the end of the tunnel. When the road map out of the lockdown was announced it was cautious, but at least there was one direction of travel, towards freedom and getting our lives back, however slow it may have been.
Yet now, despite a one of the most successful vaccine rollouts in the world, the spectre of lockdowns and restrictions on our lives, livelihoods and liberties returns. For many millions of people, this whole thing is beginning to seem like a never-ending nightmare. Is this what is going to happen whenever there is variant of concern in future?
This nightmare has gone on for long enough. It’s time to live our lives fully.
We need to an approach that involves truly learning to live with COVID without the endless restrictions of even the threat of such restrictions. This will not be the last variant!
There are encouraging signs regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine against Omicron and certainly the links between cases, hospitalisations and deaths seems to be very very different to previous waves.
Some very wise words by Dr Chris Smith, a consultant virologist at Cambridge University:
“So far in the pandemic, the country has been divided on how to deal with spikes in cases: there’s those who favour a light touch approach and those who want restrictions imposed. Perhaps now is the moment we can look beyond these arguments, toward a near future where Covid lives with us and we with it. What most people do agree on is that periodically pummelling our pubs and entertainment venues, paralysing the economy, denting education and destabilising the nation’s mental health to control outbreaks of variants with uncertain characteristics is just not a sustainable long-term proposition.”