December 30, 2021 7.30 am

2021: Corona Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Variants

The year’s been a coronavirus-based blur at times

It’s the festive season again and it’s fair to say many residents are questioning “Where did the year go?” Well, a year of lockdowns  and COVID-19 news and views have truly turned it into a blur for some.

It’s been a year of new variants for the virus, of the push for vaccinations, then second jabs and lately boosters, and of the rise of the anti-lockdown (and occasionally anti-vaccine) voices.

With all that in mind, here are some of the key moments from this year.


Vaccines and boosters

The main focus of this year, for the government, has been the vaccine programme which launched in care homes and for those aged 80 and over last December, and since then has seen more than 126,533,737 doses given in total.

Three key players have been at the forefront of this – Astrazeneca, Moderna and Pfizer.

From January 4, the programme really began ramping up, starting with an aim to get the top four priority age groups their first dose by February and reaching all adults by June 18. Later in the year the jab would be allowed for all those over 12.

Second doses were initially delayed from three to 12 weeks in a bid to allow even vaccine distribution, but were opened up shortly after.

However, as new variants appeared the government decided third booster doses would be needed. These, they said, will top-up the protection in the face of waning immunity.

In Lincolnshire, as of Monday, December 20, there have been 1,541,172 doses handed out, including 602,295 firsts, 561,693 seconds and 377,184 boosters.

The government’s COVID dashboard shows this equates to around 85%, 79% and 53% of the local population respectively.


Variants

Speaking of variants, there have been several key ones this year – Alpha, Delta and the one causing the most concern at the end of 2021, Omicron.

While the general acceptance seems to be that at least Alpha and Delta were milder symptomatically, each one has been more transmissible than the last.

Delta initially took over as the dominant strain, but now it has been taken over by Omicron with cases soaring and causing huge consternation for government, residents and businesses.

However, scientists are still learning what the Omicron variant means for people – with signs now showing that deaths may be increasing, though some days dipping back down. It’s also thought the variant can evade some immunities caused by the jab.

The increased risk associated with the huge leap in people who are positive has already seen restaurant bookings cancelled, theatre shows postponed and football fixtures suspended.

The government has already brought in tougher measures to deal with the influx, including COVID passports for crowded venues, mandatory vaccines for NHS staff and working from home orders as well as making face coverings mandatory in public indoor spaces.

The fear, for a second year in a row, is that the NHS could be overwhelmed. At the time of writing, everyone was waiting with baited breath to see if more lockdowns would be coming in the new year.


Lockdown on? Lockdown off?

When the Prime Minister announced his roadmap out of the lockdown in February, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief, and by the end of June we were really looking forward to a return to normality. Some began going out and even travelling – though not to countries on the government’s red list.

We’d spent several months with the children at home, gathering only outdoors in the wintery weather and letting our hair grow out, or worse, trying to cut it ourselves.

Even when we were allowed to go out again, however, we found ourselves limited by venues themselves still keen to maintain social distancing.

Some enjoyed the relaxed rules, heading to football matches with thousands of others, despite the tuts and sighs from those most safety conscious and the warnings from health bosses as the variants above reared their heads. Nightclubs reopened and people returned to the dancefloor.

However, it wasn’t to last, the latest variant has reared its ugly head, cases are soaring. Greater Lincolnshire recently saw its highest cases record and, as noted above, the PM has returned to some familiar restrictions.

And as Christmas came around, again, we faced Déjà Vu calls for more restrictions rise – despite resistance from MPs (some on the PMs own side). Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not put in new measures before the new year – but for many it feels only a matter of time.


Hands, Face, Space and Get Boosted

If there are two phrases that sum up the government’s message for the year, it’s these two.

Hands, Face, Space was introduced in 2020 as the slogan for the pandemic the first time round, but its been just as relevant this year. The idea, as everyone by know probably knows, is to remind people to wash their hands, wear their face coverings where needed and give people space in a bid to limit the spread of the virus.

Get jabbed, and subsequently, Get boosted has been the other big push this year. Urging people to get their vaccines, then their second doses and finally as variants rise their third.

For the most part the first two were successful, as above, nearly four fifths of eligible adults have had their second dose, leaving just over 20% to get theirs.


The growth of anti-lockdown and anti-vax movements

This year has seen an increased number of people become sceptical of the virus and the measures being taken to tackle it.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently faced a huge rebellion from his own party while trying to bring in COVID passes. Almost 100 Conservatives, including several Lincolnshire MPs, voted against the plans and they were only passed by support from the Labour party – an embarrassing blow for the PM.

Reports of parties in Number 10 and other government locations while restrictions were ongoing, alongside health secretary Matt Hancock’s office romance and Dominic Cumming’s trip to Barnard Castle have accumulated to cause anger among many.

It’s not just in parliament, however, the number of anti-mask, anti-lockdown protests has increased recently.

People are restless after two years of the virus and are keen to return to some form of normality. Comments on social media, which once would have tipped way into the favour of protecting loved ones and staying safe are increasingly hostile to the measures.

It’s been a year where we’ve seen health bosses including Chris Whitty and Jonathan Van Tam have been chased in the streets by anti-vaxxers.

Businesses and tourism industries, unable to handle any more financial pressure, are starting to see the strain.

It’s not just tin-foil hats either as people grow increasingly sceptical over the need for not only two jabs in one year, but three.

There’s an increasing call for people to accept the virus and live with it now, and its hard for many not to be swayed by it.

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