On a wing and a prayer

Turn back the dials on your time-travel machine just five years. Can you remember what you were doing?

In May 2019, the government released its "wellbeing Budget", there were rumours Simon Bridges would be rolled as National Party leader, a report was released on serious bullying in Parliament, and Japan’s Emperor Akihito abdicated.

It was a blessedly pandemic-free time.

The first reports of a new virus in China, subsequently named Covid-19, were still about seven months away. It wasn’t until early in 2020 that the world went crazy.

Despite lots of talk about now being in post-pandemic times, Covid hasn’t gone away. It is very much with us. The expression "post-Covid" would seem to be both a euphemistic one to make people feel happier and more comfortable in their lives again, and a fillip used by governments and those in business to get everyone back on the treadmill.

The latest figures from Te Whatu Ora show Covid remains a threat in our communities. In the past week, 2287 new cases were reported and three deaths were attributed to the virus.

On Sunday night, there were 116 people in hospital as a result of Covid. Just shy of 4000 people have now died in New Zealand due to Covid being an underlying or contributory factor.

It’s certainly true that the world feels like it has become a much weirder place since the pandemic began. In New Zealand, vaccination programmes and accompanying mandates have angered and disaffected thousands.

Here and elsewhere we have seen the rise of conspiracy theories, much misinformation and disinformation, and a worrying erosion of trust in scientists, the media, leaders, and in the truth.

While Covid continues malignly rebounding around the world, with variant this and sub-variant that, it doesn’t mean we can breathe a sigh of relief thinking there are no other viruses forming or in existence. You might be recovering from Covid, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up other bugs and diseases too.

With this fragility within our society, we don’t want to be thinking about the possibility of another pandemic up-ending life as we know it.

But not to consider the chances of it happening would be foolish and dangerous.

Experts are calling for more reliance on rapid antigen tests in the event of an Omicron outbreak....
Photo: Getty Images
In recent weeks, we have started to hear more about a strain of avian flu — H5N1 — whose potential to jump species and infect humans has been worrying scientists, naturalists and bird-keepers in the northern hemisphere for some years. Many places in Europe and the United Kingdom warn people not to touch any dead birds they might see.

This flu virus has been infecting herds of cattle in the United States in the past month or so, and experts believe it is now passing between cows, rather than being caught from infected birds. This is very bad news, as it opens up the chance that the virus could eventually learn how to move between humans.

The virus has not yet been discovered in New Zealand or Australia or in the Pacific Islands.

However, Dr Richard Webby, a Kiwi flu researcher working in the United States, says its behaviour is keeping experts on their toes and that, while there is a low risk of it affecting animals here, New Zealand needs to be ready.

Would we be ready for another pandemic if the worst happened? And are the Covid-weary public likely to take notice and consider it a serious threat?

One thing the warring, confused, angry world does not need now is a new pandemic.

Unfortunately, it is inevitable. Being prepared is crucial.

And another thing

The Tories are toast, if the results of the local elections in the United Kingdom at the weekend are anything to go by.

The shambolic Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, was braced for a drubbing and voters didn’t let it down. The party lost control of 10 councils, and 470 Conservative councillors are down the road.

Astonishingly, the Liberal Democrats now have 521 councillors, eight more than the Tories.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer is, of course, calling for a general election now. Mr Sunak admits the Conservatives would not win but reckons Britain is heading for a hung parliament.

The tide has long since gone out for a lame-duck Tory government. An autumn election, or sooner, would be the best course for the UK.