Perhaps it is the American science fiction writer, socialist and ecologist Kim Stanley Robinson who captured the zeitgeist most poignantly: “The virus is rewriting our imaginations. What felt impossible has become thinkable. We’re getting a different sense of our place in history. We know we’re entering a new world, a new era. We seem to be learning our way into a new structure of feeling.”

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the present and by all reliable accounts will herald in a future we never anticipated. Moreover, it all happened so quickly that there was no time to catch up with the new devastating reality, or better, its various layers and implications. The virus’s viciousness and lightning-fast capacity to spread has meant that difficult decisions had to be taken and acted upon quickly. As deputy prime minister and health minister, along with the prime minister and my cabinet colleagues, we did not have the luxury of allowing the passage of time to clarify what we were up against. We had to decide on the basis of the information we had, weigh the consequences of different courses of action and exercise the best judgement in navigating between people’s health and their livelihoods.

The benefit of relaxing each measure was more beneficial to all of us than the much smaller risk that kicks in as a result

Thankfully, we have not done badly, not badly at all in fact. Compared with other countries we came out at the top of the class. I say this openly and without squirming. Not only because the facts speak for themselves but also because it is not a question of political self-praise. I did not bring about this success in the fight against COVID-19 – all of us did. It was the valiant and passionately altruistic efforts of all the frontliners that made it happen. It was also the cooperation and constructive criticism of the public that gelled the nation on the battlefield against the virus.

On the strength of this success, we relaxed certain precautionary measures. In the general scheme of things, some probably said that they were not game-changing.

True, but then again discretion is the better part of valour. As a surgeon I was always taught that while you cannot postpone decisions, always base your decisions on fact.

We did not take the measures because COVID-19’s threat is no longer hanging over our heads. We took them because we managed to contain the threat to the extent that the benefit of relaxing each measure was more beneficial to all of us than the much smaller risk that kicks in as a result.

Indeed, as we emphasised when we announced these measures over a week ago, our frame of mind was and will remain clearly open to all scenarios.

The success of our measures remains to be seen. We will not pat ourselves on the back yet. It is not the decision to relax the measures that determines their success. Rather, it is how with them in place we will continue to contain the spread of the virus that will.

On this count, I shall remain optimistic. We, all of us, managed to turn this tsunami into a river when we knew very little about it, did not know where to look for it and where it was headed.

We will keep doing so with the same prudence, determination and astuteness which guided us so far. We will persist in taking nothing for granted and we will not make the mistake of underestimating what we are up against.

It is often said that it is not winning the battle that counts but winning the war. COVID-19 turns this dictum on its head. There is no defined war, no Waterloo, to be won against this virus, at least in the foreseeable future. For now there will only be yet more battles. Battles which I am certain, as we all pull together as one, proud nation, we shall continue to win.

Chris Fearne, Deputy Prime Minister

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