HAVE yourself a merry little Christmas – with no unnecessary socialising and your lateral flow test result prominently displayed. We have now to take Omicron seriously, it seems, as cases rise. Though it's hard to fear something that sounds like an intergalactic delinquent from Guardians of the Galaxy.

There is chance that this will end up a "scariant" than another deadly variant, but it hardly matters. We are into the third Covid wave now, or is it the fourth? Anyway, we know the drill.

First, academics start to form into groups on Twitter along culture war lines, with the left calling for a Chinese-style lockdown while the right laments the loss of our freedoms. The BBC runs around in circles trying to find someone who'll say that we're all going to die.

The stars of previous waves like Professor Devi Sridhar, the La Pasionaria of lockdown, get ready to lock horns again with libertarian sceptics like Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta. The latter had been suggesting recently the pandemic was effectively over because Britain had reached, er, herd immunity. Omicron hasn't been listening.

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Then comes the obligatory spat between Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson over safety. The UK Government is refusing to hold a four nations Cobra summit, presumably so it doesn't have to share details of its not-Plan-B with leaders of enemy administrations. This looks just a little like Emmanuel Macron uninviting Priti Patel to that boat people summit in Calais.

You may recall that in July, after Boris Johnson's "Freedom Day”, Ms Sturgeon insisted that it should remain a legal requirement to wear masks and socially distance in Scotland. Some unhelpful wiseacres pointed out that in SNP Scotland you'll no longer be prosecuted for possession of heroin, following the Lord Advocate's advice to the police, but you can still be prosecuted for not wearing a mask.

Westminster left it a matter of individual choice – masking that is, not heroin. Though this too was a tad disingenuous, since firms that didn't properly mask up could be prosecuted for endangering the lives of employees.

As it turned out the wearing of masks in Scotland didn't seem to make much difference to Covid spread. In masked Wales, cases have been much higher than non-mask England. This virus just goes its own way, and isn't bothered.

Now, Mr Johnson is making masks a legal requirement in England, and sometimes even wearing them himself. So Ms Sturgeon had to move quickly up the precautionary scale. She is calling for eight-day quarantine for travellers and two PCR tests instead of the one mandated by the UK. The Scottish Government could do this itself if it really wanted to, though it would be pointless, since Scottish travellers would simply go through English airports.

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One argument that has been shelved for the time being is the row over greedy rich nations hoarding vaccines. Until last week, charities like Oxfam, and many scientists, were calling on G20 countries to rein back on boosters until developing countries got their populations first-jabbed. The UN calculated that if the rich countries carried out their booster programmes they would deny basic levels of immunisation to people in countries like South Africa where fewer than a third of citizens are vaccinated.

It turns out they were right. Omicron has "made in South Africa" stamped all over it. Confirmation that the coronavirus cannot be defeated anywhere until it is defeated everywhere. The rich nations can't just vaccinate their own and then build a quarantine wall, like epidemiological Donald Trumps. Not even New Zealand can. Mind you, this hasn't stopped stopped the G20 imposing travel bans, ignoring calls from the UN not to “punish” sub-Saharan Africa.

However, it doesn't necessarily follow that it is wrong to push forward with booster programmes in the UK. The vast majority of infections right now are happening in countries like Germany and the UK, with cases in the tens of thousands. In South Africa, Covid numbers are far smaller, and Omicron appears to have less damaging health effects.

HeraldScotland: Is it wrong to vaccine teenagers while adults in the developing world await theirs?Is it wrong to vaccine teenagers while adults in the developing world await theirs?

Part of the reason is demography. Developed countries have far more old people. In Africa, the average age is about half what it is in the UK. The disease is more deadly here, and spreading faster, so it makes sense to try to get as many people boosted as quickly as possible before winter.

But should we be vaccinating teenagers here before adults in poor countries? Let alone 12-15-year-olds? That's an awkward moral dilemma. Ideally we would be doing both: boosting everyone while spreading vaccines far and wide. As Gordon Brown pointed out recently, millions of vaccinations are being wasted as they pass their sell-by date, often because people in America have refused them. But governments are not going to care about Africa until their own populations are safe.

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Part of the problem is that developing countries often cannot produce their own doses, either because they lack the health infrastructure or can't afford to pay the cost of vaccines. This despite AstraZeneca making its vaccine available at cost. Other vaccine firms charge, and there may be a time when to ask questions about patents and profits. But not right now. Just imagine what the world might have looked like today had Big Pharma not developed in 10 months vaccines that normally take 10 years.

The UK has contributed half a billion pounds to the UN's Covax programme and promised to deliver 100 million doses by the end of 2021. That is not going to happen now that both the Scottish and UK governments are boostering like mad. But what is the alternative? Imagine the headlines if it emerged that Scottish people were dying because jabs were being sent abroad?

Nations are essentially selfish, just like families. When the chips are down, they exist to look after their own. If Mr Johnson were to delay the booster programme, in order to export millions more vaccines, he would likely be accused of risking the lives of British citizens. That's not what governments do. It looks like the Global South will have to wait.

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