REINDEER CYCLONES: the term was strange to me when I came across it recently, but it describes a beautiful and rather moving natural phenomenon.

A reindeer cyclone occurs when a herd feels under threat. The reindeer gather together in a tight circular group, and begin running around very quickly in an anti-clockwise direction. It’s a tremendous sight, with the biggest and strongest members of the herd thundering along on the outer edges of the circle, making it very formidable and unapproachable. But – at the centre of the circle, at the still eye of the cyclone, the young fawns and the weakest members of the herd are barely moving, if they’re moving at all, completely safe and protected by the efforts of the rest of the herd.

I was marvelling at a video of this on social media when I saw a comment from Ian Sinha, a paediatric respiratory doctor in Liverpool, who said: “Animals must be wondering why we don’t protect our human fawns the way they protect their animal ones.” He certainly has a point.

The Westminster Government’s attitude towards the most vulnerable people during the pandemic was never very good, with care home residents and disabled people paying a heavy price. This is not a party-political point. In October 2021 a report from the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee said that: “the UK’s response to Covid-19 was one of the worst public health failures in the country’s history and led to an avoidably high death toll.”

But now, the Prime Minister and his colleagues seem to have given up any significant efforts to prevent people from becoming infected, relying almost entirely on vaccines to ensure that people survive. For many, this talk of ‘riding it out’ sounds frighteningly reckless.

We probably all know people who have been vaccinated, boosted, and still got Covid in recent weeks. Perhaps they weren’t ill enough to be hospitalised, but for many their illness was by no means trivial. The Westminster government’s blasé approach to this is like playing Russian roulette with the nation’s health.

We now know that around 1.3 million people in the UK are living with Long Covid and it seems that every day scientists learn something new about the disease. How it can cause ongoing serious blood clotting problems and even affect the brain, how previously healthy people can seemingly be recovered but have a heart attack or stroke months later. Indeed some people argue that the pandemic is now ‘a mass disabling event’.

With this growing knowledge, the thought that the Government can view with equanimity the prospect of millions of people, including children, becoming infected with such a disease, or talk about ‘riding it out’, is chilling. And, almost unbelievably, NHS staff still do not have the best, most appropriate PPE, after almost two years of asking.

Of course this is an incredibly difficult situation for any government to face, but unlike the reindeer, the people with most power in UK society have not used all their strength to protect the weakest. To take just one example: high-efficiency particulate air filters, a simple and relatively inexpensive mitigation, were proposed for classrooms last August, but only a fraction of those needed have been supplied, so now we have classes being taught with windows and doors open in January. There seems to be no good reason for this failure.

Meanwhile, those deemed Clinically Extremely Vulnerable no longer even have the limited protections that the shielding scheme offered. And we know that the poorest communities, which are most vulnerable to Covid, are about to be hit with soaring fuel costs and shrinking incomes due to National Insurance rises, having already suffered a cut to Universal Credit.

The Covid Recovery Group of Conservative MPs is particularly vocal about public health measures restricting their ‘freedoms’, demanding “Vaccine must mean permanent immunity from lockdowns and restrictions”. They have a great deal to learn from the reindeer. And I would urge them to contemplate the words of children’s author Anne Booth, who commented on 6 January: “If politicians claim ‘Christian values’, then the Epiphany, a feast where the powerful honour God in the vulnerable, is a good reminder of priorities.”

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. Her latest book is Illness, Disability and Caring: A Bible study for individuals and groups (DLT, 2020).  Her latest articles can be found here. Past columns (up to 2020) are archived here. You can follow Bernadette on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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