ONCE upon a time – actually just over two years ago – public authorities hatched a Baldric-style cunning plan of disease control. It was really sophisticated and ran something like: “Let’s just allow this new virus to let rip. After all it’s just like the flu.”

The two blond bombshells then nominally in political charge on either side of the Atlantic blurted out what they were being advised behind the scenes, but in their own inimitable way.

On Thursday, March 5, 2020, Boris Johnson told a startled Phillip Schofield on This Morning about a theory that “perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population”. Boris Johnson went on to say that we needed to “strike a balance” but it seems unlikely that he had arrived at his own “chin theory” of disease control unaided.

The previous week, the then American president, the one who didn’t need to be geriatric to be bereft of his senses, was equally clear “This is a flu. This is like a flu ... It’s a little like a regular flu that we have flu shots for. And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.”

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Again, it seems unlikely that the only self-diagnosed genius ever to occupy White House arrived at his “just like the flu theory” all on his lonesome. As the crisis got graver and lockdown was enforced, the realisation finally dawned that Covid-19 was not like the flu at all – it was much tougher and very much deadlier. Then Johnson had a brush with mortality and Trump had a brush with experimental anti-virals. Both survived but more than one million Americans and 178,000 Brits were not so lucky.

All of this history is very pertinent once again. In both countries, the virus is effectively being allowed to let rip in the renewed hope that it is now really no worse than the flu. Except that it is. Last week more than 1500 Americans fell victim to the virus and were joined in death by more than 300 over here.

There is some hope, of course, that, over time, “learning to live with the virus” will become possible. A combination of infectivity rates and vaccination levels have limited the severity of successive waves of variant infection but there is also some very bad news from the latest science.

Last week, a new paper published in Nature Medicine and based on a US study of 33,940 people showed that while vaccination does indeed greatly reduce the level of death and serious illness it only reduced the risk of contracting “long-Covid” by a disappointing 15%.

Let us consider the full implications of this. Public health controls are now minimal, mask wearing is now more the exception than the rule, house parties are no longer confined to Downing Street and international travel is only restricted by the shortage of staff.

And this in the face of a virus with an established track record of debilitating significant numbers of survivors with a constellation of symptoms which will severely impact on personal health and societal productivity for years to come.

It would be tempting to believe that this renewed laissez-faire approach to Covid-19 was based on a clear cost benefit analysis of what is best for the population. In reality, the authorities have just given up.

Effective public health policy proved impossible to implement when the danger was immediate and really scary. What are the chances now that people are inured to Covid and believe their symptoms will be mild?

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THE vaccination programme, after initial success, has slowed to a scandalous trickle, with substantial vulnerable sections of the population left exposed to a virus against which the currently available vaccine shots offer little effective protection after six months or so.

Our own First Minister can now personally testify that this is still not a virus to be trifled with. And yet that is exactly what is being done in overall policy terms. There is no public health barrier, inadequate vaccine protection and the virus is being left once more to its own devious devices. The reality is that we have declared victory over the virus before the war is over. Effective action to stamp it out has all but been abandoned.

We will just have to cross our collective fingers and hope for the best. Because Covid 19 has not gone away, you know – only the efforts to control it have.

It is time to come clean.

Because after an anxious summer, winter will be not long in coming.