Boris Johnson has saved the New Year for British citizens who live in England — and enterprising Scots and Welsh prepared to sneak over the border to celebrate.
But will the Prime Minister hold out against some in the media, hard-line scientific experts and bossy politicians — all of whom insist that the Omicron variant of Covid poses a lethal threat to our way of life, despite much evidence pointing to the contrary?
Many BBC news bulletins begin with the claim, intended to make us grip the sides of our armchairs, that infections have soared to new heights.
What they seldom mention is that daily fatalities in the UK are running at a much lower rate than two months ago.
Boris Johnson has saved the New Year for British citizens who live in England — and enterprising Scots and Welsh prepared to sneak over the border to celebrate. But will the Prime Minister hold out against some in the media, hard-line scientific experts and bossy politicians — all of whom insist that the Omicron variant of Covid poses a lethal threat to our way of life, despite much evidence pointing to the contrary?
Professor Danny Altmann (above), an immunologist at Imperial College, London, said on Tuesday that Mr Johnson’s reluctance to introduce new controls seems to display the ‘greatest divergence between expert clinical/scientific advice and legislation’. What, ministers daring to disregard scientists!
Some scientists, particularly those working for the Government’s advisory group Sage, call for urgent new restrictions before we are engulfed in a tidal wave of Omicron infections.
A week ago, Sage warned that ‘more stringent measures would need to be implemented very soon’.
Many non-Sage experts agree. Professor Danny Altmann, an immunologist at Imperial College, London, said on Tuesday that Mr Johnson’s reluctance to introduce new controls seems to display the ‘greatest divergence between expert clinical/scientific advice and legislation’. What, ministers daring to disregard scientists!
Among politicians, Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer says his party stands ready to support tough new measures, while his doleful satrap in Cardiff — First Minister Mark Drakeford — does his utmost to close down Wales for good.
Even he, however, is surpassed by John Swinney, Deputy First Minister of Scotland and general SNP bigwig, who told a receptive BBC yesterday that ‘Omicron is a serious threat to absolutely everyone within our society’.
Really? Even those who have been triple-jabbed? I don’t believe it. ‘Killjoy Swinney’ was trying to dissuade Scots from celebrating the New Year in England, and thought that spreading fear might help his cause.
Mr Johnson, of course, has at least a hundred Tory MPs on his back, threatening to make trouble for him and vote against the Government should he dare to introduce new regulations.
Among politicians, Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer says his party stands ready to support tough new measures, while his doleful satrap in Cardiff — First Minister Mark Drakeford — does his utmost to close down Wales for good
But don’t underestimate the huge pressure being applied by doomsters on his other flank, who are telling him that the Apocalypse lies just around the corner. These people seem blind to the overwhelming evidence that Omicron presents much less of a threat.
Will he stand firm and repeat what he said yesterday? He declared getting a booster jab is the best way of dealing with Omicron, which is ‘obviously milder’ than its predecessors. He added that ‘up to 90 per cent’ of those in intensive care haven’t received a booster.
Or will the PM, over the coming days and weeks, cave in to rampant fearmongering as new infections in all likelihood go on rising, and then wrap us in restrictions all over again?
Since, despite everything, I believe that Boris Johnson is a rational and intelligent man, I trust he will consider all the evidence carefully.
Item One comprises several recent reports which unanimously conclude that Omicron is significantly milder than previous variants. According to the UK Health Security Agency, which isn’t renowned for its optimism, people catching it are up to 70 per cent less likely to need hospital care.
Yesterday a record 183,037 new Covid cases were reported for Tuesday. There were 57 deaths, less than half the daily average for October, when Omicron hadn’t yet reached our shores. (Above, shoppers in central London on Wednesday)
Item Two is a major South African study which suggests that Omicron accounts for only a quarter of the deaths of patients caused by previous Covid waves.
Since some government scientists snootily deprecate their South African counterparts, it’s possible they won’t shove this particular report under Boris’s nose.
They may also not draw his attention to another new study — Item Three — which suggests that only one-fifth of the increase in coronavirus inpatients in the week to December 21 was caused by people admitted to hospital because of the virus.
In other words, because Omicron is so infectious, very many people find themselves in hospital without realising that they have got it — say, someone who has a broken leg. Their main problem is not Covid. Very possibly it’s not a problem at all, at least to them.
Item Four comprises the latest official Covid data supplied by the Government. Though Christmas festivities have disrupted the flow of figures, the picture is reasonably clear. New infections are soaring, deaths are not.
Yesterday a record 183,037 new Covid cases were reported for Tuesday. There were 57 deaths, less than half the daily average for October, when Omicron hadn’t yet reached our shores.
Memo to the BBC: in the spirit of accurate reporting, please don’t cite rising infection rates without mentioning that the rate of fatalities has been falling sharply over the past week or so.
Item Five concerns London, the epicentre of the current wave of Omicron. Several observers have posited that the virus may already be in retreat, with some of the worst-affected boroughs reporting small declines in new infections.
Indeed, Professor Francois Balloux, an expert in infectious disease and director of University College London’s Genetics Institute, said at the end of last week that London is likely to be past the peak of Covid infections.
Perhaps these are enough items for Boris to consider. The point is that there is a welter of evidence whose collective message is that Omicron is not the terrible scourge alleged by politicians on the Left, some media outlets and overmighty scientists.
Here I should mention those many independent-minded scientists who, unlike their more coercive colleagues, don’t wish to condemn us to a never-ending cycle of clampdowns that destroy livelihoods and drive millions mad.
Among them is Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford.
He told the BBC on Tuesday that Omicron ‘appears to be less severe and many people spend a relatively short time in hospital’. He added that high death rates from Covid in the UK are ‘now history’.
Another enlightened voice is Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine at the University of East Anglia. He foresees a time, perhaps not far ahead, when people with Covid should be allowed to ‘go about their normal lives’ as they would with a cold.
In short, we must get used to living with the virus in its milder form since it isn’t going to disappear.
We should follow America’s example of halving the recommended isolation period for people with asymptomatic Covid-19 from ten to five days.
The alternative, with new infections growing so quickly, is to allow society and the economy to grind to a halt as there won’t be enough people to keep the show on the road.
Unsurprisingly, our own hidebound authorities seem reluctant to reduce the quarantine period from seven days to five. Test and Trace is still instructing people to self-isolate for ten days.
The fact is that an apparatus of control has grown up over the past nearly two years — supported by state scientists, endorsed by many politicians (including not a few Cabinet ministers) and cheered on by some journalists.
They want to stick with their old ways. But times have changed. Omicron is different. It’s not harmless, of course, but can be kept at bay, principally through vaccinations, including repeated boosters.
Will Boris stick to his guns? Will he be brave enough to hang on to the realisation he seems to have arrived at — that living with this largely tamed virus is now the only way forward?