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Groundhog Day style Christmas

The omnipotent power of the Omicron variant

By Ricky Browne

Its déjà vu all over again – as the UK and the rest of the world hobbles to Christmas, the coronavirus is threatening the holidays just as it did last year.

Will this be a Groundhog Day – style Christmas?

Once again, the UK is being highlighted as a global danger zone, where the disease – this time the Omicron variant – is threatening to get out of control.

And just as the UK red listed several African countries, when the variant was discovered in South Africa, it is now feeling the pain of being ostracized  – in the hopeless effort of other countries to protect their populations.

Police outside the Eiffel Tower in Paris Photo: Sky News

Earlier this week the UK lifted its travel restrictions form a group of about 12 African countries including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria – the explanation being that the disease was already rampant, so it was pointless to try and lock the stable now that the horse had bolted.

But now France — which outside of Ireland, is the UK’s closest neighbour – is turning the screws. At this time of year it could normally be expected that thousands of British residents and citizens would be travelling to France to celebrate Christmas with family and friends or perhaps to hit the ski slopes.

While there wasn’t much chance of doing much skiing this year, there would still have been thousands of people hoping to be with family.

But British tourists are now to be banned from France due to the concern over the ‘extremely rapid” increase in Covid cases in the UK – driven by the new Omicron variant.

French nationals and their spouses have been spared from the new rules – but many may think twice about a trip, as the variant rips through the UK – no doubt to soon hit many other countries, including many in Europe.

France is currently battling the Delta variant – and is not yet facing the kind of calamity facing the UK with Omicron.

But in the UK the omnipotence of the Omicron variant is revealing. In the UK there were 88,000 new cases of the coronavirus – a new record – and that was driven by Omicron. That was about 10,000 cases greater than the previous high since the start of the Covid pandemic – yesterday’s total of 78,610 cases.

Masked up in France Photo: EPA

The country is also rolling out its booster campaign full blast – but those vaccines will have little effect on the individual until at least two weeks have passed from the point of getting the shot. More than 25 million people have received their booster shot in the UK – with the aim being to offer the shot to all adults by December 31.

It was a record day for booster jabs today – with more than 745,000 people receiving the jab. Although high, that still falls below the intention of having more than a million shots of the booster per day.

But as impressive as the rollout may be, because of the delay in the effectiveness of the shot, the rollout will do little to slow the spread of Omicron at least in the short term.

Meanwhile, in all likelihood, France is just delaying the inevitable – or trying to. And the Omicron variant is spreading at such a fast rate that it could be rampant before they know it – just as it was in the UK.

The saving grace might be that this variant, although much more contagious, is less severe and less deadly than the Delta variant. But the fear is that, even if that is the case, hospitalisations will be radically increased and overwhelm the NHS.

The Conservative government has lost a lot of moral authority over the last few weeks – with the Opposition and media harping on the story that Christmas parties may or may not have been held at Downing St last year, when such gatherings were banned.

But the Government has also been hit by its own backbenchers, when about 100 of its own MPs voted against the Government trying to install new restrictions due to Covid. That included ‘vaccine passports’ for people to gain entry to some indoor settings. That idea of having to present your papers to get access to certain parts of the society is anathema to any card-carrying Conservative – but not Boris Johnson and his cabinet.

In the ensuing vote in Parliament, Johnson had to rely on the Opposition Labour Party to get the bill passed. Apart from the embarrassment – it weakens Johnson’s authority over his own party.

It means that even if the medical experts advise a lockdown that Johnson can not easily deliver that, without risking his premiership.

People who have received booster shots in the UK on a daily basis

So he is caught in what appears to be a lose-lose situation. If he brings in a lockdown, his party may overthrow him. If he doesn’t bring in a lockdown Labour and the media may condemn him for allowing the disease to run rampant – with all the deaths associated to that new wave.

On the bright side he has a new daughter – who can hopefully bring some Christmas cheer to 10 Downing St. But any thoughts of escaping to France to get away from it all if only for a few days, must be put on ice.

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