The merest hint of a Covid setback and out they come – the merchants of doom.
Most are disciples of the authoritarian Left; politically driven scientists, Labour opportunists, scaremongering unions, attention-craving leaders of the devolved administrations. And they are just itching to slam down the shutters on British life.
No matter that the available evidence suggests the Omicron variant is probably less dangerous than the Delta strain, which accounts for nearly all cases in the UK.
Scottish and Welsh nationalist leaders Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford led the calls yesterday
And no matter that in South Africa, where Omicron has been present for some time, there has been no rise in death rates.
These zealots still demand a return to draconian restrictions – despite the hideous collateral damage they would cause to the health and wealth of this country.
Scottish and Welsh nationalist leaders Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford led the calls yesterday.
In contrast with Boris Johnson’s sensible and proportionate measures, they want an eight-day quarantine for everyone coming into the country (a hammer blow to the beleaguered travel industry), a return to working from home (a hammer blow to the hospitality sector) and – inevitably – another taxpayer handout for more furlough.
If they threw in compulsory social distancing and internal travel restrictions, we’d be all the way back to spring 2020.
But this is not 2020. Since then we have witnessed the vaccine rollout, effective Covid treatments and fatalities reduced to a fraction of those terrible times.
Boris Johnson speaking at a press conference after cases of the Omicron variant were confirmed in the UK last week
We have also seen the crippling damage lockdown does to children’s education, to mental health, to the NHS and the economy.
While Mr Drakeford and Miss Sturgeon may be comfortable with endless restrictions, most people are not.
They want the freedoms they took for granted pre-pandemic to be returned in full and for good, especially for their children.
But there are ominous signs, too, of more school disruption. The teaching unions are already calling for universal mask-wearing and the return of pupil bubbles.
Meanwhile, ministers say all children (and adults) who come into contact with an Omicron case must isolate for ten days – even if they test negative for the virus.
This risks recreating the summer ‘pingdemic’ madness, when a million healthy pupils had to stay off school because of over-enthusiastic test and trace rules. This time their welfare must come first.
The Omicron variant is here. It may present a serious risk, but the evidence so far suggests it won’t.
What’s certain is that there will be other strains in the future, most relatively harmless.
If we descend into lockdown panic every time one emerges, the health of the nation will suffer incalculable damage and our remarkable economic revival will be strangled at birth.
Green jobs dividend
Remember those apocalyptic forecasts that Brexit would lead to an exodus of multi-nationals from these shores? Or that levelling up was just an empty slogan?
Two announcements yesterday gave the lie to both those shibboleths. Nissan is building its new £13billion electric car plant in Sunderland and BP is to create a vast green hydrogen facility on Teesside.
These companies could have chosen anywhere to locate their cutting-edge clean energy initiatives.
Nissan is building its new £13billion electric car plant in Sunderland
That they chose the UK is a huge vote of confidence in this country’s workforce and our economic future.
That they chose the industrial North East shows that levelling up can be more than a pipe dream.
One a car manufacturer and the other an oil producer, both firms are accused of contributing to the climate change problem.
It is fitting that they should now be part of its solution.