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The light at the end of the tunnel

Peering through the gloom, I think I can see light at the end of the tunnel. The covid pandemic is all but over!


Let me explain, noting that I am all too fallible, that I am an incurable optimist, that I am not medically qualified, that I have not published 300 peer-reviewed papers, that I have no computer model, and that I am pretty much guessing.


I also look past the daily panic porn news.


The first question is what decides the covid scare is over. I don’t think it’s an epidemiological outcome. It’s not like the shelling will stop and the guns fall silent. There will always be viruses; there will always be mutations, there will always be public health experts advocating shutting down our lives.


I think rather it will be over when the government says it is over.


The covid scare began by government announcement. That’s how it will end.


It’s not a scare that we see. People aren’t dying in the streets. There is nothing especially different about mortality by numbers or age this past year anywhere in the world. Covid does increase the risk of death in older age groups, but the mortality profile is very much in line with natural mortality.


If the government hadn’t announced it, and tested for it, we would hardly have noticed.


What we have noticed is the government response. That’s been the clanger.


(I should note in no doubt a vain attempt to forestall the trolls: yes, the virus is real; yes, the virus is dangerous for the old and immune-compromised; yes, government should have had a response but, and here’s where the difference lies, a response consistent with living in a free society and targeting the “at risk”.)


The scare was announced by government. It will be ended by government announcement.


That means it will be over when the government says it is over.


That brings me to my next point.


I think government will soon say that it is all over. The ongoing quarantine and threat of lockdown is not politically sustainable. Put simply, it has to end at some time. People are growing weary. The economy is hemorrhaging. The government can’t magic up money forever.


The question then becomes the trigger for the government to declare victory.


There are two possible triggers working happily together: the change in US Presidents and the availability of the vaccines.


President Biden on Day One signed Executive Orders getting tough on Covid. These are a “100-day mask challenge”, a restructuring of the response organisation, and a commitment to not leave WHO.


The Orders won’t make an epidemiological difference. But they will make a political difference.


And that’s all that is needed.


President Biden desperately needs a win. He needs to revive the economy and get jobs.


Once the hundred days have passed, he can declare victory. The people will cheer. They will be just so pleased it’s over. The vaccines worked. The masks worked. The lockdowns worked.


The USA can move on. There will be no looking back.


They had the pandemic. And they beat it.


President Biden needs the media onside -- but they are. They will be singing Hosanna for four years. Victory over Covid will be a President Biden miracle. President Trump killed hundreds of thousands but President Biden saved the USA. It’s the perfect political story.


President Biden’s victory will become our victory. We just need enough people to have had the jab to provide the necessary cover. The vaccines worked! Victory.


Put another way, can Prime Jacinda Ardern keep New Zealand quarantined once President Biden declares victory? I don’t think so. I am hopeful the clamour for opening the border will become impossible to ignore.


Once Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declares victory, it will be dutifully reported, and believed with huge sighs of relief.


If that all sounds too positive, consider the following:


The groundwork for such an announcement was laid in the Prime Minister’s first public statement of the year on 21 January.


“Our goal has to be though, to get the management of covid-19 to a similar place as we do seasonally with the ’flu. It won’t be a disease that we will see simply disappear after one round of vaccine across our population. Our goal has to be to put it in a place where as we do every year with a ’flu vaccination programme that we roll out a vaccine programme and maintain a level of normality in between time.”


There you have it. A seismic shift in government positioning, scarcely remarked upon.


Last year, any comparison of Covid to the ’flu was crazy conspiracy talk. But beginning 2021 the Prime Minister has made the comparison without so much as a peep. She’s also doing something else: she is telling us we need to learn to live with covid. Last year, such suggestions were treasonous. The covid was to be eliminated. Any attempt to live with the virus was a death sentence. But this year that’s exactly what the Prime Minister is telling us and has done so without a murmur of dissent.


There you have it. The Light at the End of the Tunnel. I appreciate we are not at The End. But we are at the Beginning of The End.

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