As an unprecedented pandemic took root, the vast majority of countries around the world last year introduced measures to try keep the numbers down and avoid the potential collapse of their health systems.

And as a new COVID-19 variant spreads with extraordinary rapidity, a number of European governments have once again introduced curfews and restrictions, sparking widespread protests.

Last week, South Korea reversed its phased plan to ease restrictions and instead reinstated stringent social distancing measures. The UK government said there was no need for any further restrictions of any type before Christmas, despite the worrying figures of infection.

For almost two years, Australia practically banned anyone from setting foot in the country. It has now decided to change strategy despite the fact that Omicron is spreading like wildfire. “We have got to get past the heavy hand of government and we’ve got to treat Australians as adults. We have to move from a culture of mandates to a culture of responsibility.

That’s how we live with the virus into the future,” Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said.

In reality, nobody has a solution to the pandemic, simply because there is no handbook to effectively deal with a virus that keeps shifting its goal posts.

In reality, nobody has a solution to the pandemic, simply because there is no handbook to effectively deal with a virus that keeps shifting its goal posts.

Despite the worrying spread of the Omicron variant, which has led to record numbers of daily cases in Malta, a return to lockdowns, tight social restrictions and fines for violating them is not the answer.

Since the virus first emerged, one thing above all else has changed the game: vaccination.

And that is why, in the current circumstances, the Maltese health authorities’ new, limited restrictions are relatively positive. They send a clear message that the best weapon against serious illness from COVID-19 is the vaccine.

Studies are showing that the vaccine booster provides up to 85% protection against severe illness from Omicron.

Scientists believe the vaccines have so far kept hospitalisation figures relatively low.

The new measure from January 17 enforcing vaccine certificates for entry into establishments is tough, and has sparked protests from people that the measures infringe on civil liberties.

But we are living in tough times.

It is easy to say all non-essential establishments should shut down for the foreseeable future, not realising this would spell the death of hundreds of businesses.

We cannot expect the government to keep subsidising businesses and workers for months on end. The authorities are finally coming to terms with the potential long-term mental health impact of the pandemic. The more protracted the measures, the more we risk increasing a problem for which there is no vaccine.

They also seem to have acknowledged the potential backlash of imposing draconian measures on a country which has largely complied with the regulations and whose citizens have realised the importance of taking the vaccine.

Of course, the situation could change in the coming weeks, especially if the numbers of those treated in hospital were to spiral out of control. And the reality is we are destined to repeat these cycles until the vast majority of the world’s population is vaccinated and the virus finds fewer opportunities to mutate.

In lower middle income countries, just 47.8% of people have received a single vaccine dose. In low-income countries, it is just 8.3%.

After almost two years, we simply have to learn how to live with this virus. Every individual has the responsibility to fight it by being sensible, avoiding unnecessary risks and never taking health for granted. Forcing tough measures on a largely compliant population could be counterproductive at this stage.

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