Thursday, December 7

Can Britain Really Learn To Live With Omicron? This week we’ll find out | Gaby hinsliff

TThe roulette wheel is spinning, the ball already rattling towards its final destination. Boris Johnson has bet the house on his Omicron bet and now there is no going back. The optimism of the ministers who insisted over the weekend that they see no reason for new restrictions. It overlooks the fact that now it may be too late for that anyway, given that an estimated one in 25 people in England already had the virus before New Year’s Eve.

So it doubles or drops as a country crawls back to work and school after the Christmas hibernation period. We’re about to find out exactly what it means to experience unprecedented levels of Covid infections, but from a strain that may be less dangerous, at least in those who are fully vaccinated. Once again, a virus that we thought we had known has abruptly changed, and once again, history is not necessarily a reliable guide to the present. We all got back on the seesaw, reeling between hope and fear, never knowing what to expect.

The new threat this time around is not death on the biblical scale predicted during the first wave, although sadly there will be too many deaths, hospitalizations and cases of people disabled for a long time by Covid over the next few months, but the chaos and disruption caused. by the potential massive infection of key workers, leaving them unable to do their jobs. We have entered an unpredictable world of people having heart attacks waiting more than an hour for an ambulance, hospitals that cannot maintain safe staffing levels report critical incidents, and large organizations are cautioned to plan for up to a quarter of their people. is ill or isolates herself. Now imagine what the worst-case scenario could be with the daily grind of grocery store deliveries, container pickups, and bus schedules, let alone surveillance or critical infrastructure such as the energy and power industries. Water.

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Meanwhile, education ministers have pledged to keep schools and daycare centers open whenever possible – rightly so given the profound impact we now know the closures had on the education of the poorest children and a vulnerable few. who sadly are safer with their teachers than with their parents, but at the same time they are allowing. The bosses know that they can send annual groups home if necessary. In the case of severely understaffed secondary schools in England and Wales, in practice that would probably mean prioritizing GCSE and A-level classes for students who need to do their simulations this term, but switch to education. at home for other years if necessary, something is already happening. in some parts of the country before Christmas when Omicron struck.

Meanwhile, kindergartens and elementary schools serving pupils too young to be vaccinated will open their windows to the January air and keep their fingers crossed, knowing that (at least according to the Office for National Statistics) About one in 15 children between the ages of two and 11 had Covid before Christmas. Since many key workers are also parents who cannot easily do their jobs if their child gets sick at home, they probably remind us that child care is the fourth emergency service, without which the other three would get into trouble very quickly. In other words, it’s time to at least prepare for the possibility of things getting tough; Everyday life becomes more difficult and volatile as Covid snaps its spokes into wheels that, in good times, are hardly noticeable turning.

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Hopefully, that disorder could fortunately be brief. But any country that nearly came to a standstill overnight thanks to a temporary shortage of tank truck drivers after Brexit and a gas panic stampede should probably have learned by now not to get cocky. Time and again, this virus has reminded us of everything that happens unseen beneath the surface of a functioning society; of how complex our modern lives have become just in time with all of their interminably interconnected moving parts, but also how fragile, dependent on things and people that we mostly take for granted until we are brutally reminded not to.

And that’s why learning to live with this or any other virus, the mantra of those who never again want their freedoms restricted by government dictate, doesn’t mean exactly what some hope it will do. It’s not about ripping off your mask and happily forgetting that any of that happened, but about building resilience and learning from the weaknesses exposed by Covid. Successfully overcoming what could be the end of a pandemic should mean investing not only in vaccines and antivirals, but also in more hospital beds and people to staff them, creating enough slack in the system to absorb seasonal Covid surges. without having to vomit. tent rooms in NHS car parks. It’s going to mean well-honed contingency plans for critical industries, better ventilation in schools, and more imaginative responses to the question of protecting people who are protected or clinically vulnerable than have so far emerged from lockdown skeptics screaming that It’s time for everyone to be alone get on with their lives. But a change in national attitudes may also be necessary.

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Living successfully with Covid-19 will require not only a virus accommodating enough not to mutate in more lethal ways, but also the maturity to self-control at times, as many did last month by voluntarily deviating from parties or the pub to to be able to spend Christmas with their families, and as the Swedes have always quietly done in what was the forgotten element of their country’s non-blockade policy, and the resilience to live with a degree of unpredictability in life, which is infinitely easier said than done for some. Low-income families are likely especially in need of help absorbing the shocks and sudden disruptions this virus is still capable of producing, even when it hopefully shuts down on its own.

The silver lining of the Omicron cloud is, of course, that it could pass relatively quickly. It’s risky to read too much of the data collected during the Christmas holidays when the reports were potentially spotty, but now all hopes are pinned on Britain following the same path as South Africa, where infections appeared to peak relatively quickly before back. A few difficult weeks, according to the cabinet’s argument, outweigh months of financial and personal misery; better to tear off the plaster and finish at once. Whether that gamble was unusually cunning or deadly reckless will become quite clear in the coming days as Omicron spreads from London to the rest of the UK, with hospitalization rates already doubling in much of northern England. But right now, the miserable roulette wheel keeps turning, and all we can do is hold our breath.

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