IN perhaps the clearest sign yet that we are moving out of the pandemic phase of Covid and into the endemic phase, today the First Minister announced that as of February 28, masks will no longer be required in Scottish classrooms.

An epidemic is when there is an outbreak of a disease or infection that affects many people at one time and can spread through one or several communities. In an epidemic, the disease or infection spreads rapidly to a large number of people in a given population over a short time period, creating waves of infection which can potentially overwhelm the ability of health services to cope. A pandemic is when that epidemic is global in its effects, such as we have seen with Covid.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf hit out at the UK's approach to keeping Covid-19 under control

The endemic phase into which we are now moving is when the disease or infection is permanently present in a region, society or population, usually at an approximately constant level. Covid hasn't gone away, and still poses a risk to health, but that risk is considered manageable and the disease is less likely to overwhelm the health service. 

We are now potentially moving into the endemic phase because, thanks largely to widespread vaccinations and also to previous infection, most people in the population have antibodies against Covid in their systems which confer a significant degree of protection and substantially reduce the risk of death or serious illness as a result of getting infected with the virus.

Another important factor is that the omicron variant of the virus which is most widespread is considerably more transmissible than previous variants, giving it a competitive edge over those older variants which have largely been displaced by omicron. However, omicron appears to be less likely to cause death or serious illness among those it infects.

We are not entirely out of the woods yet. Omicron is still causing deaths. My own sister-in-law in Connecticut died of Covid last month after contracting the omicron variant which is spreading like wildfire and causing immense stress on health services in the USA where vaccines and masks are politicised in a way that they are not in Scotland. In the USA there is a far higher number of people who are unvaccinated, and they are making up the bulk of hospital admissions due to Covid.

However, in Scotland, we are starting to see what life post-pandemic will look like. In England, Boris Johnson has announced that self-isolation will soon no longer be required following a positive Covid test. The announcement was criticised by Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf who accused Johnson of making "off-the-cuff" decisions to pander to his anti-lockdown backbenchers in an effort to drum up support for his leadership. The Health Secretary did not rule out lifting restrictions in Scotland sooner than originally planned but asserted that the Scottish Government would do so in a "thoughtful" way  which was led by advice from scientific experts.

The one thing that those of us who support Scottish independence are all waiting for is concrete progress towards a second independence referendum. The Scottish Government had previously committed to a referendum by the end of 2023 assuming that we are out of the critical phase of the pandemic. Now that there are clear signs that we are moving out of the pandemic and into an endemic phase of Covid, we can look forward to progress being made in preparations for another independence referendum and work being done to build a cast-iron prospectus for an independent Scotland. In a welcome sign that work is under way, meetings are now taking place between senior SNP figures in order to get prepared for what is being described as a "new phase" of preparations for indyref2. 

As we move out of the crisis phase of Covid, preparations for an independence referendum will dominate Scottish politics in the weeks and months ahead. Here's hoping it will help to focus minds and energies, and that the wider independence movement will be able to put the rancour and divisions of the past behind us and move towards our common goal.

This piece is an extract from today’s REAL Scottish Politics newsletter, which is emailed out at 7pm every weekday with a round-up of the day's top stories and exclusive analysis from the Wee Ginger Dug.

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