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MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: Any fool can panic, but the task of a real leader is to be calm 

The response of the Government to the new Covid variant from southern Africa should be targeted, proportionate and, above all, calm.

Of course it is both wise and practical to restrict travel from the affected areas. 

Millions will be reassured by tighter rules on masks in shops and on public transport. 

Equally, it makes sense to require PCR tests and self-isolation from returning travellers.

We just do not know yet how important or worrying the Omicron strain is. So we should act – but with care. 

The response of the Government to the new Covid variant from southern Africa should be targeted, proportionate and, above all, calm

There has been much speculation that it is more virulent, that it spreads more quickly than the widespread Delta variant, and even that existing vaccines might prove ineffective against it. But in fact this is all guesswork.

There simply has not been enough time to establish any of these things. While we wait to know, measured and targeted precautions are sensible.

They are relatively easy to remove if they prove to be needless, and equally easy to retain if they are justified. It is not as if we cannot react quickly to any crisis, when it comes.

If any of these dangers turns out to be real, we have in this country a superb vaccine research capacity, and we have demonstrated the ability to respond with great speed and efficiency when called to do so.

By contrast, a renewal of restrictions on work and daily life would be enormously difficult to lift once imposed, as experience clearly shows. 

There would be so many voices warning that it was too soon to take the risk, so Ministers would hesitate endlessly. It could be months before we were again free of such curbs.

So calls from some quarters for the return of restrictions to our national life should be treated with caution. We now know that such measures carry a heavy price tag.

The NHS will take many months to recover from the effects on it of the last lockdown, when vast numbers of people missed vital treatments and tests. 

The mental health of the old and lonely has already taken enough blows. How dismal it would be for them to be stuck in a renewed lockdown, especially at a time of year when so many look forward to family gatherings around the Christmas tree.

The economy is now bursting into full life again, but this is largely because of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's bold and praiseworthy decision to liberate the country from shutdowns and closures at the earliest sensible moment.

It is as well to remember that many criticised this decision. Yet other countries that retained tight restrictions have in fact suffered from redoubled outbreaks of the disease, whereas the English figures, for now, remain gratifyingly low.

As winter gets under way with all its dangers to health, it may be hard to argue that Mr Johnson's policies have solved the problem. But it is far harder to argue that they have failed, or proved to be rash.

We have our freedom back. Our economy is booming, education is at last returning to normal, daily life is resuming, the Health Service is working hard to catch up with its backlog, growing numbers have been able to take foreign holidays and fly abroad to see long-missed relatives.

The time may come when there is good reason to sacrifice all these gains. If it does, then we will be the first to support them.

But let us not rush into any such action. Any fool can panic, but the task of the real statesman is to be calm.