Keeping the economy afloat and the people healthy – the Omicron challenge

Boris Johnson is between a rock and hard place. Go gentle and the NHS may fall over. Go hard his Tory vote would collapse, possibly his own position.

As Omicron variant takes over as the dominant strain in the UK there is still much about it we do not yet know. Over the next few weeks we should have a clearer understanding of the symptoms and how sick people are likely to become from infection. How many hospitalisations and deaths compared to the Delta variant. How serious it is or is not. This is vital in deciding on how to respond to the Omicron challenge – how to both keep the economy afloat and the people healthy.

I expect there will be some anxiety and misinformation. Anti-vaxxers will challenge the approach of getting vaccinated to protect against Omicron. Libertarians will challenge the reintroduction of more authoritarian measures. A key concern is clarity on what level of protection the existing booster every adult is now asked to have, actually offers individuals.

Boris Johnson’s track record is not strong – appearing to wait until the trade mission to India was complete before restricting entry into UK – by which time the Delta variant had a foothold in the UK. Was it a kneejerk reaction by Boris Johnson to red list countries with Omicron when not only is there no evidence of this variant being dangerous to life – the only clear evidence to date is that it is more transmissable than the Delta variant.

Globally, many nations have taken the line to restrict entry into their country first until the evidence is clear that Omicron is not life threatening. This seems to be the common sense path to reassure the public that the government taking the matter seriously and taking seps now to minimise the risk of a lockdown further down the line.

Boris has to balance the libertarian arm (Tory MPs placating their voters) and the authoritarian arm (protect the NHS at all costs). He has ditthered and only promised not to make a decision (“nothing is ruled out”). Only after the hospitality sector took a battering did he finally come out and promise them he would not lock down before Christmas.

What is concerning is that the government is widening the cohort for the booster to all adults when it is not yet known if it sufficiently resilient to the Omicron variant and it will take weeks to figure out what the Omicron variant is capable of before embarking on a new vaccine, and understanding what the current vaccine booster is capable of. The booster is in effect his last defence before more restrictions. There is every reason to believe Omicron can be as dangerous as Delta – so can the booster save us?

It’s a defining moment

Whitty and co, and Labour are clearly batting for a lockdown. Tory back benchers are protecting their seats by resisting more restrictions. Boris is in the middle clearly contradicting Whitty and Co but looking wobbly as party leader , whilst also losing confidence of voters with his alleged partying.

The NHS could still be overwhelmed but even a small proportion of Omicron hospitalisations is dangerous what with the NHS in crisis every Winter. It is also difficult to envison how we can afford much more of this, societally or economically. But there is the danger the blob – SAGE and liberal technocrats will demand more measures bigger, more authoritarian, less competent government indefinitely.

Boris Johnson is between a rock and hard place. Go gentle and the NHS may fall over. Go hard his Tory vote would collapse, possibly his own position. We have not gone for the libertarian model and protected the economy and we haven’t gone for a lockdown which we can’t afford, putting the NHS at risk. Can his political maneouvring steer him through the next two months with no clear picture of what Omicron will do and other countries already adopting more stringent measures?

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