After an incredibly tense Christmas, while the Government – and world – waited to discover the severity of the Omicron variant, this January could have looked very different indeed. The NHS could have been overwhelmed; the UK might have been in a “circuit breaker lockdown”, as many on the Left wanted; and there could have been huge uncertainty about the country’s ability to deal with future variants.

Yet none of this nightmare scenario has, so far, played out. In fact, the UK’s outlook has never looked more positive in regards to Coronavirus. On Wednesday (should one have noticed, with all the news about “partygate”), the Government announced a completely new road ahead, in terms of managing the virus. 

England’s Plan B measures –  including mandatory face coverings in public places, Covid passports and advice for people working from home – are all to be dropped from next Thursday, as the Government moves to what’s called “Plan A”.

Speaking about the latest developments, Sajid Javid said “This is a moment we can all be proud of”, while cautioning that it’s not the “finish line”, as future variants cannot be eradicated. Instead, “we must learn to live with Covid in the same way we live with flu.” 

Although “living with the virus” has been the goal for a while, it seems to be the first time a minister has actually meant that this will happen. One of the biggest indications of this is that the requirement for people to self-isolate, when they have Coronavirus, is due to expire on March 24 – and that date may even be moved forward. Like the flu, people will get to decide themselves whether they leave the house.

What is one to make of the UK’s direction? The Prime Minister said that Plan A was possible because of boosters and how many people had followed Plan B measures, and that’s certainly true. Medical developments, from the vaccine to anti-virals, have put us in a much better position in terms of how we cope with the virus. We have the infrastructure (even the infamous Test and Trace system) and expertise, in place should there be more variants of the disease – or totally new pandemic to deal with.

Another reason why we are moving in this way is, of course, the Plan B rebellion – the largest that Johnson has ever experienced – in mid December. When the Government has typically experienced resistance, in terms of Covid measures, its fiercest opponents have been the Left and teaching unions. Yet the rebellion was a lesson that other voices matter; and can clearly become more problematic in the opposite direction. Should the Government introduce any harsher measures, without providing solid evidence, and combined with the fact that many MPs want to get rid of Johnson, then the Prime Minister will be in real trouble.

Lastly, one reason the Government may feel more confident about opening up is that “lockdown scepticism” – or, simply, scepticism around the power of tough restrictions – has become a less controversial position, both in media coverage and the political arena. Members of the public have seen for themselves – having watched countries with tougher restrictions experience high cases than those without – that there is no clear correlation between measures and virus control. In years to come, who knows whether the lockdown sceptics will be vindicated and, if so, by how much?

Either way – and this hasn’t been something people could say throughout much of the pandemic – everything seems to be heading in the right direction. Even if that changes, perhaps we can allow ourselves, at this time, a little optimism this year.