THERE are few things in life that are less reassuring than watching Boris Johnson lead an unexpected Covid press conference.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister was flanked by UK Government chief medical adviser Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance as the trio set out what we know about the new Omicron variant.

It was first reported to the World Health Organisation last Wednesday. In these earliest of days, there’s not much we know for certain, but the early indications about its possible higher re-infection risk has been enough to encourage world leaders to sit up and take notice.

So far, there have been a handful of variant cases identified in England and none yet in Scotland. Looking at how quickly the Delta variant took hold, it is surely only a matter of days before we see the first confirmed case here, too.

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As I watched the press conference, I felt oddly calm about what might be unfolding. That’s partly because of the success of the vaccine programme. While some reports suggest vaccines may not be as effective against this new variant, they will still offer some protection.

And, as we’ve learned over the past few years, scientists are miracle-makers. I imagine them right now, holed up in labs across the globe, racing to adapt our vaccines to tackle this new threat.

But the main reason I didn’t feel as panicked as I have at other points in the pandemic is I think I’ve become somewhat inured to dread. There are limits to what heights my emotions can scale. If there is a peak, I think I reached it last year.

Now, those same feelings of worry and uncertainty are a constant, if quiet, companion. We might be back in pubs and permitted to hug our loved ones again, but the virus never left us.

Before vaccines, I imagined the longed-for “Freedom Day” as a point in time when we said goodbye to Covid and life would return to normal. In reality, all we said goodbye to were the severe restrictions that had governed our lives for so long.

It is a freedom of sorts but it’s certainly not freedom from the mental fatigue the pandemic has inflicted upon us. So, here we go again. Maybe.

In what feels like an eerie replay of last year, the talk is now about whether Boris, Nicola or the hero scientists can do something that will “save Christmas”. I was invested in that debate last year, though politically, not personally.

My Christmas starts in late November and is more about the decorations and food than seeing family on one specific (usually stressful) day. But, politically,

I found the debate fascinating. The pressure exerted on leaders to either save Christmas or protect public health was enormous.

In the end, we all know what happened. The tabloids said Christmas had been cancelled, yet the day arrived and those who celebrate it marked it in a different, smaller way. And, as far as I know, Santa Claus managed to get round everybody as usual.

Understandably, news of the new variant and what that might mean for our fight against the virus has made many people feel a renewed sense of hopelessness. It’s never-ending and, save for the personal mitigations and protections we each have a responsibility to adhere to, there’s not much we can do.

This is where our leaders will be tested as never before. Boris Johnson has reluctantly re-introduced some measures in England, including face-coverings in certain settings.

On The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon said – as she has throughout the pandemic – she won’t rule out any action that she feels is necessary to protect public health.

It is a feature of political leadership that the frustrations and fears of the public will be directed at those in charge. As I consider the huge burden that must be for any person to endure, it also makes me reflect on how little power I have against our evolving, invisible enemy.

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It’s comforting, in a way. No amount of doom-scrolling on Twitter or late-night checks on the current case numbers will change my fate, or that of anybody else.

Regardless of whether Omicron turns out to be a real threat to our new normal, it will be the decisions taken by our leaders, as well as our collective actions, that will determine what happens next.

Frankly, at this point in the pandemic, I’ve not got the energy to panic. I’ve imagined my own personal worst-case scenarios so many times that there is no reason to subject myself to that film reel again.

Instead, I’ll do the things we know actually make a difference. I’ll get my booster when I’m eligible. I’ll continue to take lateral flow tests before I socialise. I’ll be mindful of the need for proper ventilation. I’ll carry on working from home. I’ll self-isolate and book a test if I have any symptoms. I’ll wear a mask.

And I’ll cross my fingers that Omicron is a blip and not the beginning of something much worse.