Opinion: ‘Keeping our nerve with Omicron is right option’

Peterborough’s MP Paul Bristow writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph...

Monday, 27th December 2021, 1:30 pm
Omicron variant SUS-211222-145418001

It takes a pandemic to truly appreciate spending Christmas with friends and family. Something so normal and natural, which many lost in 2020. We came perilously close to losing Christmas again.

The Omicron variant is concerning, but there is a lot of uncertainty around the data. We know it’s much easier to catch. We think it’s less severe. The balance between the two will determine the pressure on hospitals.

Right now, cases are up dramatically, hospitalisation is up a little and deaths are still flat. This picture is consistent with being able to manage without further restrictions.

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It’s also consistent with a need to intervene.

That’s the problem with uncertain data. If you are on the SAGE committee, looking at this one variable, you model some reasonable worst-case scenarios and advise precautionary measures, while there is ‘still time’ to act. But the other variables involve certain misery.

Being precautionary over Omicron means being incautious about people’s freedoms, livelihoods and mental health.

It has social and economic consequences.

I am so pleased that the Government held its nerve. In just the few days since measures were kept in reserve, experts in South Africa (the first Omicron hotspot) have concluded that people are “markedly less likely to be hospitalised”.

Media reports suggest that our own UKHSA is coming to the same view, although we may need another week or two of real-world data to be certain. This vindicates the Government’s decision. Obviously, we may still need to act. But acting before Christmas would have been a gamble at your expense. It was absolutely right to concentrate on boosters, not on hasty restrictions.

Remember the summer? Despite the progress of our vaccination programme, the advice from the public health establishment was to keep restrictions in place.

Professor Neil Ferguson said unlocking meant it was “almost inevitable” that cases would reach 100,000 a day and “we could get to 2,000 hospitalisations a day, 200,000 cases a day”.

None of this happened. Instead of rising, cases actually fell.

And do you remember the political reaction? Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister was being “reckless” and we were “going to have an NHS summer crisis” with “deadly consequences”.

He was completely wrong.

So when Starmer now claims that Boris is “asleep at the wheel”, it’s worth recalling that Labour wanted to steer your freedoms into the ditch, all for nothing.

We have to learn to live with the virus. It was the right thing to unlock in July and it’s the right thing to wait for real-world data now, rather than taking a big call on unreliable modelling.

Above all, it’s right to urge people to get jabbed. Nothing is more depressing than reading emails from constituents who think there’s no point getting vaccinated because it’s less effective against Omicron.

For one thing, ‘less effective’ is still effective. If you’re vaccinated, you’re less likely to get the virus, less likely to pass it on and far less likely to be severely ill.

We know this much holds.

Moreover, getting boosted seems to be highly effective against Omicron.

I have been really pleased to see local queues for jabs. Peterborough is finally near 70% coverage for first doses, but the national rate is 90%.

Get vaccinated. Get boosted. And have a very happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.