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Why I’m extremely worried about this winter

I’ve tended to think of myself as a fundamentally optimistic person. This has been tested a lot over the last 18 months but I still don’t think I’m someone prone to seeing catastrophe around every corner. I’m nonetheless extremely worried about what this winter will bring in the UK and I’ve felt increasingly isolated in this feeling. As far as I can see there are a range of factors which will jointly contribute to a winter Covid wave, as well as bringing further non-Covid stress for the NHS and contributing to the wider social crisis which has been unfolding in slow motion over the last 18 months:

  • A significant return to the office, even if much of this may involve hybrid working
  • The decline in voluntary mask wearing and social distance measures (huge from my experience of the train network in the last month)
  • Schools are reopening which caused a significant spike in Scotland
  • Students are returning to university with the expectation of much higher levels of formal and informal contact
  • Interaction will begin to move indoors as the weather turns cold
  • Expected slight waning in vaccine efficacy as the early cohorts of vaccinated pass the 6 month mark
  • Expected resurgence of winter flu after its near absence last year
  • Burn out amongst NHS staff after the trauma of the last 18 months
  • Increasingly organised anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown activism
  • A crisis in the energy system which has the potential to be a minor catastrophe

What worries me is how these factors will be culturally received given what seems to be a widespread sense that Covid is in the past. It does seem plausible that, in the absence of a more dangerous variant, the UK will be over the worst of it by next year (at least on the level of vaccine nationalism) but this point hasn’t been reached yet. However I expect the currently very low adherence to voluntary measures will translate into much more limited adherence to measures introduced as part of the notorious ‘plan B’. Given the exponential growth rate of this virus could leave us in a pretty terrible situation by the time we get into the height of winter.

Categories: The post-pandemic university

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Mark

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