Yet the vaccination program had just started and government advisers were telling us that we would be in a very different place in the spring. If we had had a crystal ball that would have allowed us to see 12 months ahead of this week’s Covid-19 infection figures, we would have been horrified. How is it, we would have asked, that when we deploy highly effective vaccines, we will have even more people with Covid?
Yet the infection figures, which topped 100,000 a day for the first time this week, are far from everything. We are indeed in a very different situation this year. While Omicron has allowed the virus to spread like never before, more data is emerging every day to suggest it causes far less severe disease than previous strains.
There has been a huge spike in cases over the past three weeks, but so far only a modest increase in hospitalizations and no discernible increase – yet – in the number of patients requiring ventilators. As for deaths, they seem to be decreasing for the moment.
It’s still early. There is of course a lag between infections, hospitalizations and deaths, but when we compare the Omicron wave to previous waves, there is every reason to be optimistic. In South Africa, ahead of us in the wave, infections have now started to decline without precipitating a crisis in hospitals.
Also, compared to South Africa, far more of us in Britain have been vaccinated, many of us have had three shots. Covid vaccines did not prevent infections, but they were very effective in preventing us from getting seriously ill.
Fingers crossed then, we are fast approaching the day when we can declare the end of the pandemic and Covid-19 will take hold to become another endemic disease like the seasonal flu and the common cold.
We can now hopefully look forward to the end of regular press briefings, daily statistical releases of infections and deaths and return to a world where we can once again book vacations, theater tickets and gatherings. social without having to dread even more restrictions of our day-to-day lives.
We can’t rule out more variants, of course, and we’re still seeing some of the economic aftermath of Covid, like rising inflation. But for an example of how bad times can turn into good times, we should look back 100 years. The 1920s, like the 2020s, began in times of pandemic. In addition, the world economy was disrupted by the First World War.
Yet in the second half of this decade Britain and the world were experiencing a boom like never before. Technology was developing at lightning speed and culture was taking us in bold new directions.
Look at some of the things the world first saw in 1922: insulin treatment for diabetics, canned baby food, the car radio, trains with automatic doors, the electric dishwasher , radio, movies with sound. The list continues.
From a society shattered by war and disease came one of the most remarkable periods of innovation and social change. Once confidence returns, we can be sure that our appetite for socializing, traveling, and discovering new things will return with a vengeance. Entire sectors of the economy that have stuttered over the past two years – including travel, hospitality and live entertainment – can expect a boom. We will want to catch up where we left off in the early months of 2020.
There will not be a single moment when we can say that we have received the green light. As with lockdown restrictions, we can expect Covid to loosen its grip slowly, by degrees – and perhaps even with an odd setback. Next winter will be a difficult time for the NHS – as every winter has been since anyone can remember.
But it would be surprising if we reached Christmas 2022 with Covid still dominating the headlines day after day. By then, hopefully, most of the world’s population will have been bitten, better treatments will be available, and Covid will have gone from a disease that kills around one in every 200 people it infects to a disease that rarely kills.
The New Year’s Eve parties for 2022 won’t be the most tumultuous in history, but the fact that we can at least get together with friends shows just how much Covid is already in decline.