Opinion: ‘The Covid pandemic is not over’

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

Sunday, 26th September 2021, 3:15 pm
Covid-19 vaccination.

Some people are more casual about the coronavirus than others; not long ago, I saw a film about a sports event.

The stadium was filled with people, and they were densely packed together.

There wasn’t a mask to be seen. It was as if the clock had been wound back to 2019. In 2019, such scenes would have brought a smile: the enthusiasm of the crowd was obvious. In 2021, such scenes spark concern.

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While we have been trying to re-open the economy, coronavirus cases have been hovering around 30,000.

Hospitalisations have risen. Fortunately, the vaccination programme has meant deaths have not crept up by quite as much; however, we have had days where we have around 200 fatalities. In short, the pandemic is not over.

When a rumour about a potential lockdown in October makes its way onto social media, it is believed, and for good reason.

We have been through a number of these cycles: cases rise, the government is slow to react, it becomes increasingly clear that we need stronger measures, the 
government resists. Finally, we lock down more harshly than we would like to make up for the hesitation to do what the data dictates we should.

If the government is not going to provide stronger guidance about masks and social distancing, and ensure that schools are properly ventilated, the burden of fighting the coronavirus will fall on individual citizens. Without leadership from Westminster, we, the people, will have to lead ourselves.

This leadership may take several forms, but perhaps the most powerful is example: it’s important that individuals get vaccinated and urge others to do so. It’s vital that they continue to practice good hygiene such as washing one’s hands frequently. It’s crucial that they do what they can to protect the elderly and vulnerable: this can include offering to get groceries for an isolated person or staying in touch via digital means to stave off loneliness. We should, where possible, be wearing masks in public indoor settings.

It is less than pleasant to talk about the possibility of another autumn and winter marred by this virus. Fortunately, history does provide this comfort: all pandemics eventually come to an end.

This one will too. However, the bright hope that vaccines would by themselves liberate us permanently has had to contend with messy reality. We will get through this: we must continue to show the same spirit of solidarity in this late phase of the pandemic that we manifested at the start.

Can the local administration do anything? Certainly, it would be helpful if they provided more and better guidance alongside support where necessary; we also must not let our efforts to get people vaccinated slacken for a moment. We should work with third sector organisations in anticipation of a difficult autumn and winter.

If, indeed, things prove to be better than feared, there is no harm in this: we were at least prepared. We should also advocate that the government roll out the booster programme as quickly as possible so that the vulnerable are provided an extra level of protection.

Progress has been made; I know many are disappointed that the pandemic isn’t yet over. The way to handle that disappointment, however, is not to party like it’s 2019.

There will be a time for that, but it’s not yet.