I’m exhausted by the Covid pandemic. I think we all are. The ongoing worry that every little sniffle I get might be Delta or Omicron and that I might pass it on to my household and elderly relatives; the constant mental weighing up of how many people I should safely meet while cases are so high; the current fruitless search for lateral flow tests (LFTs), which I can’t get hold of despite visiting five pharmacies and three libraries, not to mention the permanent ‘Sorry’ message on the government website; and the petty gripe that my glasses are fogging up again at the supermarket!
It feels never-ending and sometimes overwhelming when the news is bad. And, yes, there are moments when I think: ‘That’s it! I’m done with all this. I’ve had enough of poking cotton buds up my nose and booking vaccinations! I want to go back to how life used to be.’ But wanting this pandemic to end and coronavirus to ‘go do one’ won’t make it happen. Like so many of us, I lost a really good friend to Covid and I won’t stop taking necessary precautions until the risks are so low as to be unnecessary. And that time is not now, nor in all likelihood will it be any time soon.
That’s why I get so frustrated when I hear ministers and even some scientists saying that, now we have evidence that Omicron is much milder, we just need to learn to live with this virus. Well, what have we been doing for the past 2 years? What they really mean is that we need to start living with the virus without taking precautions, such as mask-wearing and LFT (even PCR!) testing – and that is a very different prospect.
Today there are rumours in the media that universal free LFTs will be stopped (£), although this has been denied by the government. Former head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce Dr Clive Dix has expressed the view that “mass population-based vaccination in the UK should now end”, except for the most vulnerable, and then there’s Nadhim Zahawi: “I hope we will be one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic, and then deal with this however long it remains with us, whether that’s five, six, seven, 10 years.” In short, let’s all get back to ‘normal’, pronto!
But isn’t that irresponsibly premature in light of the current worldwide pandemic situation? Mr Zahawi – this is not a competition! With much of the developing world still largely unvaccinated, there can be no question of any country declaring itself rid of the virus and back to normal. We have no concrete predictions on the future course of this pandemic: whether a new more problematic variant will emerge requiring yet more interventions, or whether Omicron really does turn out to be the end game for coronavirus.
Ditching testing, vaccination programmes and other responses should not be contemplated just because maintaining them is tough or it’s what people want to hear. From a public health perspective, we can only contemplate dropping precautionary measures if the trajectory of this pandemic allows us to. And that is an uncomfortable truth, because human beings are not in control, no matter how much we all want to believe that science will prevail over this virus.
Besides, what does it mean to get back to normal after the hell of Covid? And, moreover, what should normal look like now that we know we have a very limited time in which to mitigate the biggest impacts of climate change? Can we really contemplate going back to how things were when we face a problem bigger than even this pandemic?