As we head into autumn, a new phase in our response to Covid begins, despite having more cases than we did this time last year.
The extraordinary progress in developing and rolling out vaccines means much more of normal life can continue, as we live with the virus in a way that hopefully avoids lockdowns or significant restrictions.
There is no doubt the Delta variant is particularly challenging – but data shows the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths has weakened significantly, with hospital admissions relatively stable.
Ensuring the NHS can cope is critical, and the priority is to maximise vaccine take up among the eligible, offer boosters to those who received jabs in phase 1 (priority groups one to nine) and offer a first dose to those aged 12 to 15.
Here in Hampshire, more than 80 per cent of those eligible have had both doses, but that falls to just 56 per cent for those aged 18 to 24, and 60 per cent for the 25 to 29 age group, so there is still a job to do in reaching those who are unvaccinated.
And with the prospect of more flu cases this winter, the government recommends as many people as possible receive a flu vaccine, and has again extended eligibility to include secondary school children as well as those aged 50 to 64.
The use of antivirals and disease modifying therapeutics is also key in containing Covid.
Several treatments have been approved, and the UK’s Antiviral Taskforce is leading the search for treatments that can disrupt how the virus replicates to help reduce the number of people needing care in hospital.
Identifying and isolating positive cases is also vital, and the requirement for people with a positive PCR test result to self-isolate for ten days remains in place.
The UK’s Test and Trace programme with capacity for 700,000 PCT tests a day, is one of the largest in the world, and we will see the upscaling of sequencing capacity over the next few months to increase surveillance of the virus.
What happens in the world also has an important bearing on life here, and the UK remains one of the biggest donors to the Covid-19 Tools Accelerator programme, working with international partners to help the global vaccination effort.
The prime minister has made it clear that keeping society and our economy open is a priority, but Plan B includes the potential mandating of face coverings and advice to work from home if possible.
There are no plans for mandatory certification to be used for venues and events, although some have used it and others may consider it going forward.
The changes to international travel, which see a simpler ‘red list’ and ‘rest of the world’ categorisation, more countries removed from the red list and simplified testing requirements for the double vaccinated, is welcome news for travellers and the whole travel sector, and heralds a substantive shift to a new normal.
And news double vaccinated visitors from the UK and the EU will be able to travel to the US from November will be a great relief to many people – including constituents here – who have not been able to meet family and friends in the US during the pandemic.
Reopening this route will also boost the many business and leisure operations dependent on cross Atlantic trade, reviving our travel and aviation sectors.
It signifies a growing confidence in the protection of vaccines, and reminds us how interdependent and interconnected our global effort against Covid remains.
We have learnt a great deal in the past 18 months, but the risk of new variants, the extent to which immunity wanes over time, and the levels of vaccinations, are all factors that will influence the path we take next.