It’s wet, cold and the Ashes are already lost – yet there is reason to think it could still be a happy new year.
That is because the Omicron wave may have peaked in London. Figures over Christmas and New Year are likely to represent an undercount, but Professor Neil Ferguson’s thinking has a brutal logic to it. Speaking on BBC Radio 4, he said:
“With an epidemic that has been spreading so quickly, reaching such high numbers, it can’t sustain those numbers forever.”
There are caveats, of course. As we report in today’s paper, the impact of the New Year and the return to school is yet to be seen in the figures, while Christmas sees more intergenerational mixing (or lunch, as I like to call it.)
Ferguson echoes Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, who said the worst of the pandemic is “absolutely behind us”, and that learning how to live with the virus is “going to be the critical next step”.
Boris Johnson will argue that he was therefore right not to introduce further restrictions over Christmas, but the reality is that his ability to do so was constrained not only by a lack of data but his weakness within the Conservative Party.
The other major issue – the learning to live with Covid bit – is at the moment seen through disruption and staff absences across the country. Today, two more NHS Trusts declared a ‘critical incident’ over Covid staff shortages and case numbers.
Meanwhile, anyone hoping to board a Southern train this morning will have been disappointed. Over Christmas, the operator casually let it be known that all services into Victoria would be cancelled until *mid-January* due to Covid-related staff shortages.
Even if Covid has peaked in London, its impact will linger across hospitals, supply chains and transport for a while yet. Learning to live with the virus remains a mighty undertaking.
Elsewhere in the paper, more than half a million people have signed a petition stating their opposition to the existence of a Sir Tony Blair. I’ve written a (brutal/correct/on-brand to the point of self-parody) riposte.
In the comment pages, Matthew d’Ancona writes that the pandemic is the last, desperate fig leaf for a wounded prime minister while Suzannah Ramsdale encourages everyone to forget new year’s resolutions this time around.
And finally, London Zoo spent the day counting all its creatures great and small in the annual stocktake for 2022. The pictures are everything (a pair of monkeys perched on a giant abacus did it for me.)
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