The omicron panic in Europe has left the continent in a very dark place – .

The omicron panic in Europe has left the continent in a very dark place – .

Fate may be tempting to say it, but Britain may be the best place in Europe to spend this Christmas. The winter markets of Bavaria are closed, the bistros of France will not let anyone in without a health pass, Belgium has banned private parties and Irish pubs are all under curfew. But in Britain, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated can walk, work, eat and drink wherever they want. Unless the omicron variant changes everything, we might well see in the new year that we have beaten the virus and supported the core values ​​of freedom.

Things are quite different in Germany, where hospitals are filling up and the government is considering locking down the unvaccinated. Olaf Scholz, the new chancellor, is in favor of making vaccinations compulsory and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, suggests that the 27 members of the EU consider doing the same. Freedom shouldn’t mean the freedom to infect others, the point is pretty clear. It is therefore time for governments to take back control.

It would be an easier argument if science backed it up, but studies so far make this case difficult to defend. Vaccines offer strong protection against serious disease, but no guarantee against acquisition or transmission of the virus. This makes it impossible to declare that a restaurant full of trapped diners is “safe”. The no jab, no work argument also comes up against the case of non-jabs who have had the virus. An Israeli study of 750,000 people showed that natural immunity was much stronger than the immunity acquired from the vaccine. So, on what grounds can a person with post-salvage immunity be terminated?

In France, vaccine passports have succeeded in reducing the gap between young and old. But in Scotland they proved unsuccessful, with vaccination rates not rising any faster than in England after Nicola Sturgeon’s program was announced. Anyone proposing to make life harder for the uninjected should also be honest about who they tend to be: ethnic minorities, the poor and the other marginalized.

The unvaccinated people Angela Merkel now faces in her latest act as chancellor are much more likely to live in her former East Germany where Alternative for Germany (AfD), the populists, are the strongest. A poll found that half of unvaccinated Germans voted for the AfD in the recent elections. This corresponds to a trend. Across Europe, the anti-containment cause tends to be taken up by Eurosceptic populists who are finding direct ways to voice their objections. This complicated the debate, with politicians often seeing the faces of their political opponents in the various protests.

The arrival of reminders makes the idea of ​​constraint even more difficult: if refills are needed every three to six months, how will that affect vaccine passports? Will people need to receive every supplement for the continued right to enjoy their freedom? Otto Schily, Minister of Gerhard Schröder’s government, stressed yesterday that even Communist China was not considering compulsory vaccines. So, he asked, where will Merkel’s idea lead? Will Mr. Scholz now yield to activist lawyers advocating prison terms for vaccine refusniks?

The politics of all of this are equally divisive in Italy, which is now in its 19th straight week of anti-restriction protests. Next week he will introduce a “super green pass” where a negative test is no longer enough. Austria will start fining unvaccinated people from February, as Greece will next month (but only retirees). Even Sweden, which has so long defied the world by rejecting the wearing of masks and lockdowns, has now succumbed to vaccine passports. Britain is starting to look like the new Sweden: keep calm and carry on.

Sajid Javid, the Secretary of Health, categorically ruled out compulsory vaccination, considering it not only illiberal but counterproductive. “If you make the vaccine attractive, people will want it,” says a senior official. “If we start threatening people, everything changes very quickly. Britain has face masks on public transport right now. And the non-binding advice of a minister to take it easy to “smooch under the mistletoe”. And, for now, not much else.

It shows the difference in style from Javid. Rather than jumping into the worst guesswork, he’s keeping an eye on the data – and it shows virus levels are still under control. Among retirees, the vaccination rate is 93% and antibody levels are 98% – numbers unlikely to be pushed much higher by the restrictions. The omicron variant could reset everything – and if it does, there’s no end of emergency buttons to press. But so far there is no reason to be alarmed.

Javid and others took a lot of political heat over the summer when they ended the lockdown. The idea then was to deal with whatever Covid had in store when the health service was in a better position to take it – and more specifically to be ready for winter. This is why there is such reluctance to follow the rest of Europe into containment now. Why take the hit on the economy and the health service in anticipation of a variant that might not be so bad?

Professor Philip Thomas, who predicted the third wave with modeling for the University of Bristol, sees Covid gradually running out over the next few weeks. Omicron has not (yet) changed its mind. Against that come studies – one from South Africa yesterday – saying there is a decent chance that omicron has a “substantial” ability to re-infect itself. It will probably be weeks before anything is known for sure.

Nothing is ever certain with Covid, and the bumps (like yesterday’s case spike) are a reminder of how quickly things could change. Inside # 10 there are a lot of people ready to get vaccine passports, given a half excuse. But even Sturgeon had to abandon his plan to deploy them when the evidence showed they didn’t work. There are many in government who believe the end of the lockdown in the summer did enough to ‘save Christmas’ and don’t want it to be in jeopardy now.

Last time, Britain locked herself in longer and harder than anyone else in Europe. This time, Javid’s instinct is the opposite: don’t jump too early, trust the boosters and see what happens. Quite a bet. But this time it’s the one the government is prepared to take.


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