Opinion: ‘Safety first approach the right thing with Omicron’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council, writes...

Sunday, 5th December 2021, 3:15 pm
Britain's Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty. (Photo by Hollie Adams - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Gordon Brown warned that if we didn’t vaccinate the world, we would be at risk of new variants arising.

Regrettably, he’s been proven right. While much remains unknown about the Omicron variant, it’s clear that it is concerning enough that we must return to the discipline of mask wearing in shops and on public transport.

There are things that the government could have done 
differently: it could and should have said that it wanted travellers coming to the UK to be tested before their departure. Also: the government is going to need to think carefully about hospitality, which has been unaffected by the new guidelines so far.

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From a common sense point of view, groups of unmasked people congregating anywhere indoors are a potential risk.

Furthermore, we probably should take extra care in protecting the vulnerable: the shielding scheme has expired.

Until such time as we are certain that the Omicron variant isn’t dangerous to vaccinated people, we should probably take extra measures to protect the elderly and clinically vulnerable. Resurrecting shielding would be a relatively straightforward way of doing so.

History does provide some level of comfort: all pandemics, no matter how terrible, eventually burn themselves out.

The Spanish Flu in the early 20th century followed this path: it eventually mutated into the illness we know now. It’s sometimes deadly, more often annoying, but it does not take the same toll on the population.

We are in a better position than our forebears because we have advanced science which provides both life-saving vaccines and knowledge of what we must to do to contain the coronavirus.

First, we should get vaccinated, or in the case of those who have already been double-vaccinated, get the booster shot. I believe the NHS is doing everything possible to ensure its availability.

Second, we need to obey the rules.

No one really wants to go back to mask wearing and social distancing: we have had a summer of increasing freedom.

It was possible to believe the worst was over, and hopefully, it is. Nevertheless, we should adopt a safety first approach. Let’s assume Omicron is dangerous. We should do everything we can to limit its spread.

The less it spreads, the less chance it has to infect others and mutate even further.

The government’s scientific adviser, Chris Whitty, is apparently concerned that the British public won’t abide any further restrictions. I think he is underestimating us.

Most of the people I encounter at my ward surgeries seem to understand what is at stake: the coronavirus has been subdued but not yet defeated. If we make a sustained effort, we can finally unshackle our lives from its grip. If we lose focus and discipline, the government may be forced to drag us back to the dark days of lockdown.