The pandemic may be over, but the real cost is just beginning
Fingers crossed, but for the first time in two years, it is possible to say with some degree of certainty that the pandemic, and the measures that have been deemed necessary to contain it, are essentially behind us, not only in the Kingdom UK, but in many of the rest of the world too.
There have admittedly been several false dawns before, when policymakers felt confident enough to start lifting restrictions only to have their hopes dashed again.
But thanks in part to the salvation of vaccines, this time around looks particularly different. Which is just as well, because the nation was at breaking point.
Even if ministers thought a reimposition was appropriate, it seems doubtful that such action would be more politically feasible.
As it stands, the most recent and now dominant strain of the Covid-19 virus has fortunately proven to be relatively mild, confirming a pattern seen in a number of past pandemics of progressively more infectious but less potent mutation of the virus. pathogen over time. .
Governments around the world rushed to reimpose tough lockdown restrictions when the omicron variant first emerged, fearing a further sharp rise in hospitalizations and deaths, but in many cases this proved a backlash unnecessary excessive, and the measures are now being phased out.
Leading the way is brave little Denmark, which last week became the first European country to lift virtually all remaining restrictions.
Not so soon, beleaguered Boris Johnson will protest; desperate for “red meat” to distract from the disintegration of his government, he would gladly claim the top prize for himself.
But even in England some restrictions remain, the most notable being the requirement for those who test positive to self-isolate for five to 10 days.
Venues can also apply for a Covid pass – showing proof of vaccination – and face masks continue to be required in some settings. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, a much wider set of measures remain in place for the time being.
Yet the urge to return to normal is now almost universal – except, that is, in the hermetically sealed antipodes and “zero tolerance” China.
And even with the latter, where the economic costs of repeated regional shutdowns are becoming increasingly apparent, it is widely believed that things will change once the joyless, snowless Winter Olympics are over.
France, the Netherlands and Ireland have already followed the UK and Denmark in starting to ease restrictions, and Switzerland has pledged to remove them all by the middle of the month.
Some of the numbers that instruct the change in approach are really quite stark. Hospitalizations and deaths have remained low throughout the latest wave, despite a rapid rise in infections.
In the UK, the total number of deaths per million, including those who die within 28 days of a positive Covid test, is actually now below the five-year seasonal average.
The same is true in Germany and Sweden, where deaths are also below average levels for this time of year. And if so, what is the rationale for maintaining any kind of restriction, let alone the still oppressive constraints that still prevail in parts of the Continent?
According to an analysis by Longview Economics, the case fatality rate in the UK has fallen to just 0.1pc, from nearly 1pc at the height of the first wave in April 2020.