It’s the beginning of the end. From this week, the NHS is gearing up for the largest mass vaccination programme in its history. Elderly hospital patients and frontline staff will be given their first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, while sports centres and civic buildings will be repurposed as dedicated vaccination centres as the race begins to stop the spread of the hideous Covid-19.
Care home residents will finally be able to see their loved ones, children’s education can properly resume and we can start looking forward to a shred of normality. The nightmare that is 2020 is almost over.
Last week, on the day the vaccine approval news was announced, I even allowed myself to imagine that there might be an occasion, perhaps towards the end of next year, when we might be able to dance near strangers again. Imagine that: no bubbles, no tape, no socially distanced queues. Just live music, pints in plastic cups and thousands of vaccinated people dancing in a field. Glorious.
Of course there have been a number of anti-vax conspiracies floating around the internet, but for me there’s no hesitation. The scientists say it’s safe, so jab me and take me to the disco.
Now we can finally see a way out of this crisis, maybe it’s time for everything to stop being so absurd. As of last week, those of us unlucky enough to have found ourselves plonked in Tier 3 can go from shop to shop, filling our baskets with unnecessary tat while we sing along to Holly Jolly Christmas. We can go to the gym, share dumbbells and swim in a pool with dozens of strangers, but we cannot eat in a restaurant with a member of our own household. We cannot sit in a coffee shop, visit the cinema or go to our local pub.
Even if we find ourselves upgraded to Tier 2 in the near future, we’ll have to commit to eating a Scotch egg if we fancy a pint. How many pints per one Scotch egg remains up for debate. So much for the prime minister’s war on obesity.
The news of an imminent vaccine is a beacon of hope and a signal that after a year of loneliness, heartbreak and isolation, things are going to get better. But while Boris Johnson prepares to congratulate himself and the government for its distribution of a vaccine developed between Germany and the US, we cannot forget the ways the state has and continues to fail individuals and businesses.
The hospitality industry, which bent over backwards to make sure it was Covid-secure ahead of its reopening in July, is almost in tatters.
As shoppers hit their local high street to do their Christmas shopping this week, those living in Tier 3 areas will not be able to support their favourite cafés by popping in for a sandwich. Pubs and restaurants are missing out on their most important month of the year. The £1,000 payment Johnson has offered to wet-led pubs who cannot trade due to coronavirus restrictions is an insult. Anyone who has spent even one day working in a busy pub or restaurant during the festive period knows that.
Brighter days are around the corner, but for many, the vaccine won’t heal the scars left by the pandemic. We need to find a way to build back.