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Are we nearly there yet?



The short answer is no. The Omicron variant that’s sent jitters through the world has got boffins beavering like billy-o. Early signs suggest it might not be quite as bad as it first appeared. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, at this stage the Prime Minister can do no more than the rest of us – cross his fingers.

Bojo’s boast that he’d, ahem, got Covid done – thanks to Britain’s early punt on mass vaccination – suddenly has a hollow ring to it.

The beastly new strain is spreading like wildfire, causing havoc just about everywhere. And early investigations are just as unclear as politicians’ responses.

But there are grounds for hope.

Results of a trial published in the medical magazine The Lancet last week suggest booster jabs ‘massively’ strengthen the body’s defences against Covid.

This might mean we’re in with a good chance of seeing off whatever nasties the dodgy deviant chooses to chuck at us, according to the trial’s leader, Professor Saul Faust.

‘The T-cell responses to Beta and Delta are very similar. And we would hope that we would see something similar for Omicron.’

His point being that as well as jacking up antibody levels thirtyfold, boosters roughly triple levels of those crucially important T-cells, that fight pretty much anything.

Preliminary findings from this study are what got the government going on the third jab drive. And the Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s promoting it every which way.

After an interview with Sky News’s top man Jon Craig, he frogmarched the hapless hack into a vaccination centre to get his done on the spot.

Someone filmed the incident, by the end of the the day a million people had seen the footage, and – fair play to both of them – it’s likely plenty of viewers took the hint.

And there are other cheery fragments around.

Though the new Public Enemy Number One is spreading like crazy in South Africa, including among those who’ve already had Covid, their symptoms are less severe.

Medics there are confident that’ll also be the case for those whose vaccination hasn’t prevented them catching it.

And manufacturers are equally confident they’ll be able to modify their products within a hundred days to send the bugger packing.

Which is why ministers are already splashing out big time on a hundred million doses of a fourth inoculation, the idea being to ‘future proof’ the lot of us.

Meantime, a new treatment’s just been approved for use in UK that cuts the risk of hospitalisation and deaths by four-fifths.

It’s called Xevudy, and, brilliantly, the makers are pretty sure it’ll do its stuff with the new mutations as well as the old.

But, back to mainstream politics, ministers have also been doing their stuff to make sure they didn’t lose last week’s by-election in Old Bexley and Sidcup.

They were never going to, as it’s a rock-solid Conservative seat, and the poll only came about because of the untimely death of the hugely respected sitting MP.

However, there was a swing to Labour of just over ten per cent. Potentially enough, on a national scale, to get Sir Keir Starmer into Downing Street and Bojo out of his seat.

Little wonder then there’ll be a lot more kerfuffle in North Shropshire less than a fortnight from now.

The by-election there stems from Owen Paterson’s quitting over a sleaze scandal – he’d been judged to be a very, very naughty boy – so that Tory stain will loom large.

And ministers face more trouble this week over the migrant crisis/non-crisis, depending on your point of view.

A bill designed to create a two-tier immigration system, in which migrants’ method of getting here will determine what happens to them, is back before the commons.

Those who come through legal routes will be treated as fully-fledged asylum seekers, while the rest will have fewer rights and will likely not be allowed to stay very long.

Built into this is a plan to get people who make it here in dinghies or whatever whisked off to have their cases processed somewhere outside the UK.

But Tory rebels fear they’ll use the European Convention on Human Rights Act to demand they stay on British soil. Thus encouraging others to keep on coming.

A right ruck is in prospect.

The arguments are also still unresolved about the fate of those poor souls who lost their lives in the Channel last month.

One of the only two survivors of the tragedy has claimed their desperate pleas for help as the boat was sinking were ignored by the British authorities.

And now a Home Office official has admitted to a committee of MP’s he doesn’t actually know if that’s true or not. Which implies, to Britain’s shame, that it might be.

Mohammed Ibrahim Zada, who was trying to reach Britain so he could earn enough money to send it home for treatment for his sick sister, tells a harrowing tale.

He and the rest held hands to help one another keep afloat as the boat slowly sank. But, come dawn, they nearly all gave up.

Calls to mind a line from Shakespeare’s play Richard the Third, uttered by the Duke of Clarence, who foretold his own death in a butt of wine.

‘O Lord! Methought what pain it was to drown. What dreadful noise of waters in my ears. What sights of ugly death within mine eyes!’

Not that any such thoughts seem to have occurred to group of fine upstanding citizens who tried to prevent a lifeboat from launching at Hastings, following an emergency call.

This happened just days before the mass drowning.

A woman who lives nearby said she could hear them shouting: ‘Don't bring any more of those home .. we're full up.’

She added: ‘You could hear the hatred in their voices. It really shook me to the core.’

A distant echo perhaps of the atavism of English settlers in Barbados four centuries ago, who murdered all the inhabitants and made it into a slave colony.

At least, at a ceremony last week marking the island’s transition to a republic, and removal of the Queen as its head of state, Prince Charles fessed up.

‘From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our histories, the people of this island forged their path.’

Not a lot of mixed messaging there. Unlike, going back to where this piece started, what we’ve been getting from ministers grappling with the Omicron threat.

With Christmas parties looming and mistletoe mischief beckoning, Health Department officials are struggling to define a cautious form of intimate oral contact.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey set lips quivering when she went public on ITV about whether festive gatherings should be banned this year.

‘No, no. Christmas we should continue to plan for and enjoy, I hope,’ she said. But added: ‘I don't think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe.’

Hmmm. The Health Secretary begged to differ. ‘People can snog who they wish. I’ll certainly be kissing my wife under the mistletoe – it’s a Javid family tradition.’

That said, he conceded people should ‘maybe’ take a pre-party Covid rapid test. Perhaps even even consider wearing a face mask.

Commentators have been deliberating endlessly about whether it’s appropriate for ministers to use an informal term like ‘snog’.

But the word is from music lovers: ‘You must remember this. A kiss is still a kiss.’

Oh really? In a mask? Now there’s a challenge.


Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.


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