Covid Omicron variant: Government should act decisively, not keep us all on tenterhooks with constant warnings – Alastair Stewart
'The Omicron Variant' sounds like a line from Star Trek. It is easy to imagine Mr Spock coolly informing Captain Kirk it has broken out on planet Covid-19. But does he hit red alert?
The last week has made many of us hover our fingers over that button. Mixed messages from the Scottish and UK governments make it impossible to decide what to do next: do we cancel, reduce or delay festive gatherings?
Last December’s worrying headlines are back: “Act now to save Christmas.” The apocalyptic forewarning that “First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is preparing to make a statement amid the surge of Omicron” is no better.
Look a little closer, and “Christmas” is not quite the same thing to all people. A holy day for many, it has evolved into a secular day of crackers, turkey and presents. Nor is it some Victorian image of the family by hearth and fire.
The birth of Christ is now a festive season beginning at the tail end of November and Black Friday right through to the Boxing Day and January sales.
It is an astronomically significant commercial season. Santa's sleigh is full of Amazon Prime parcels now. Analysts PwC predict nearly £9 billion was spent on Black Friday, twice the amount spent last year, during the lockdown.
There’s a sport in beating the food queues, getting the best deals, and having the best Christmas work do. It's joyously fun, but perhaps not the hill we should die on when chancing new Covid variants.
Nicola Sturgeon has laid out an extremely confusing plan for tackling the Omicron variant. In a parliamentary update last week, there was fear but no panic. She doubled down on existing measures such as social distancing, masks and working from home.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has now said people should take regular lateral flow tests for Covid “much more frequently” than twice a week.
Concurrently, the First Minister and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford are pushing for eight-day isolation and a PCR test for incoming travellers. The UK government rejected that request but has an appalling record of creating policy through last-minute U-turns.
Last Saturday, UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid discreetly tweeted that incoming travellers must now take a pre-departure PCR or lateral flow test from today.
The entire end-of-year scramble to save the season is becoming a tradition in itself. Exactly as with last year, we have leaders who are incapable of making decisions in a timely way.
It was evident in at least November of 2020 that the following month would not be a typical one. The promise of a free-for-all Christmas week was quickly rubbished, but was never believable to begin with.
More emphasis seems to be placed on saving the commercial festive season than saving Christmas itself. It's not semantics to ask which takes precedence when triaging a nation struggling with Covid fatigue, unknown and potentially deadly variants, and seriously mixed signals from the country’s governments.
Any additional restrictions on hospitality and the airline industry will decimate them. But the spectre of doubt hanging over these industries is j