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"They think it's all over ... "


I have only ever been stung once by a wasp. I was charging down the stairs in my boarding house at school, running my hand along the bannister as I did so. Unbeknown to me, this little black and yellow critter was on its last legs there and I ran my hand right into its butt, whereupon it stung me right between my thumb and forefinger. Ouch! I couldn't hold a pen to write for a few days after that - or at least that was my excuse. Since then I have always given wasps a wide berth. Spray the office, shut the door, have a cup of tea (somewhere else, obviously), return to the office, and sweep them up.


Now, it is wonderful news that the rate of infection is starting to fall and that there's the possibility of a vaccine within a month or two, but let's not get too excited. "The number of wasps in the office is no longer rising. Let's get back in there. We've found some promising fly spray, but we're not ready to use it yet. What's to worry about a little sting? Only a few people will die of anaphylactic shock." Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? And yet, this is what the current approach to managing COVID sounds like. Don't get me wrong. I know that there are many millions of people for whom there is nothing between them and redundancy than a few more furlough payments and that every day that we hide away means that we need to find another £1,000,000,000 further down the line. But putting the brakes on a few extravagant projects including a certain railway line and getting caught up in the Space Race could help towards paying off the bills.


The 'prize' is tantalisingly close, or so it would seem, so it would be a tragedy to be caught off our guard now like I was when I ran my hand into that wasp's butt all those years ago. Let's "spray the office" (keep on washing our hands, covering ourselves in antibacterial gel), "shut the door" (keep all non-essential services closed, including schools for the last two weeks of term), "have a cup of tea" (enjoy Christmas as best we can), "return to the office" (go to back to work in the New Year), and "sweep them up" (roll out the vaccine program).


And, as for meeting the cost, I'll put my idea out there ... although I must admit to having seen 'bits' of it elsewhere and I haven't done the maths. For four years from now until the next General Election in late 2024 everyone, with certain exceptions, pays a +2% National Insurance Supplement (NIS) so that, in much the same way as part of our current NI contributions makes sure that there are funds to pay our State Pension, our NIS pays back into the pot for what we've borrowed during the pandemic. As NI is paid on a sliding scale, this would go some way towards sharing the financial burden more equitably. I would have to say that I think certain professions who put themselves at risk during the COVID pandemic, for example, NHS workers, shouldn't have to pay NIS at all and there could be a reduced rate for some other workers (e.g. police, teachers, those working in retail) who also "carried on regardless". There is then a better chance that public sector pay will at least be able to keep up with inflation so that recruitment doesn't fall off a cliff in the years ahead.


I spoke to my 76-year-old father a few days ago. He turns 77 in April next year, which is now much closer than last March when all this kicked off. We've agreed that we'll meet up to celebrate in five months' time (he's a few hundred miles away) and I'm increasingly confident that this will happen. But for now, I'm carrying on being careful. The wasp is still buzzing around my head. And he's very much alive.

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