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OPINION - 2022 will be challenging but compassion will help us on this long journey

 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

Not for the first time, dear Londoners, do we find ourselves at the epicentre of this crisis. With 20 per cent of inhabitants still unvaccinated and Omicron exploding, we battle an ominous sense of December déjà vu. And the bad news can be overwhelming. Pop onto Twitter and you need to engage in deep breathing. Professor Whitty is on our airwaves. Boris Johnson is talking up tidal waves while defending parties.

We’re frantically renegotiating with relatives over Christmas visits. The Queen has cancelled her family lunch. Longed-for parties have been swiped, holidays look increasingly challenged while the French have locked us out again. Bar mitzvahs and weddings are being recalibrated. Schools closing are back in conversation. Ambulances are delayed. Whole swathes of London deserted. The Bank is fighting inflation and its interest rate rise announced yesterday is our mortgage-rising gift for Christmas. Twenty months into a global pandemic and the strain of what we have endured is becoming ingrained. As we stare down the barrel of uncertainty today, there are many in this city at a tipping point of exhaustion and stress. Others are scared of being lonely.

Those in hospitality and events are once more on a tightrope, balancing cancellations, cash flow and staff falling ill to Covid. Working from home will have come as a relief, especially to parents of children breaking for the holidays. But some are adjusting sadly backwards, having reignited the camaraderie of the office. And what of the thousands who don’t have the choice to work from home?

Risking your own Christmas to serve us in shops and restaurants, staff our hospitals, run our transport systems, providing solace, support and fun… (thank you, by the way). Even if you are reading this, sitting relaxed, smoothly embracing the rollercoaster of Covid — perhaps you’ve loved the slower months of increased isolation — many you know will be experiencing rising fear, anxiety and frustration. This is not an epidemic of equals.

Despite these bad tidings, I’m convinced this wave will be different. We’ve been here before, neural pathways are well worn, providing built in resilience. The peak will come much quicker, “a hairpin bend put in our way” says soothsayer Professor Whitty, “but boosters will accelerate us out”. Pfizer has a new antiviral pill which could cut the risk of hospitalisation and death for the unvaccinated by 88 per cent.

Most importantly, we have learnt that compassion can fill the space and join the damaged pieces. We have seen exceptional examples of kindness over the last 20 months: unseen acts of warmth within communities and in the workplace. Generosity didn’t start with Covid-19 — it was always there — but the pandemic gave us the clear impetus to use it more widely, permission to be kind in a city that often thrives on competition and ambition.

Many felt emotionally uprooted by last summer; months of separation having shifted the social structures beneath us. I, for one, felt hugely discombobulated — former relationships and old social groups were fractured. But in the darkness of Covid, I had also built fresh networks both in my career and new friendship groups. And they will be our support networks again.

The last few months with vaccines to protect us have meant reconnecting and a semblance of normal life. A small spot to breathe. Thank God, because it’s clear now, we’ve got a long way to journey. 2025 is the more likely end to the Covid cycle. Most of us have suspended future planning and are instead, embracing flexibility and small moments of joy as a vital tool for survival.

A vast swell of innovation and imagination also came to the fore in this last year. That will happen once more. We leapt forward five years digitally, while science (and streaming) quite literally rode in to save us. Our vaccines are testament to the ingenuity of humans; proof that we can heal as well as cause destruction. There was a renewed focus on saving our planet.

We took big steps forward in diversity with the Black Lives Matter Movement. Real progress is being made around women feeling safe in our society: both in law and commitment, and, as I write this, new funds have been announced to achieve more rape prosecutions.

It’s tempting to view 2022 with trepidation but when we are united by compassion, a desire to serve our community and a humble respect of this planet, we operate at our very best. 2022 will seriously challenge and ultimately excite. Into the breach we go again.

PM can’t keep scoring own goals after this poll disaster

“Boris Johnson, the party is over,” announced Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan today after winning the formerly Tory seat of North Shropshire with a 34.1 per cent swing. Many will see the by-election result as a classic mid-term disaster. But this was a pro-Brexit constituency, with 60 per cent voting Leave. This will unnerve Tory “Red Wallers” (one senior Conservative said many could easily not survive the next election) and embolden rebels. Polls have Johnson as the most unpopular PM since John Major after Black Friday. If he loses the public, he loses the party. And the by-election defeat was caused by a series of avoidable own goals.

But there’s still room to manoeuvre. “If he doesn’t ‘f*** up again, he will be fine,” said another seasoned Tory observer. “But if he does, he’s in serious trouble.” And as I wrote last week, the key factor is the money in our pockets come the next general election. Real incomes are set to fall, new taxes will hit in April, and the PM has increasingly less political capital.

Thank God the Queen has been sensible

The Queen has cancelled her pre-Christmas family lunch. Thank God. Unlike our party-denying/party encouraging PM, she has again demonstrated wise leadership in a crisis. Imagine those grand-teens passing Covid with the gravy… and does she need the stress of everyone avoiding the trickier family conversations that set off a row?

Frankly, if anything happened to the Queen, I might throw in the towel and move to America. Trump’s gone, after all.