It is just over nine months since the first national COVID-19 lockdown was imposed in the UK. The disease had spread with alarming speed across the globe since first identified in December, 2019. 23rd March signalled the start of a lockdown that was to continue for almost three months, its bleakness tempered only by a fortuitous spell of fine spring weather.
It was predicted from the outset that the virus would not simply go away; there would be a second wave in the autumn. That prediction has, sadly, proven entirely correct. Across the UK, further lockdowns have had to be imposed. It would be easy to become dispirited.
In the face of adversity, however, mankind has always shown itself to be remarkably resilient. Research into finding a vaccine for the virus began almost immediately after the pandemic broke; and the fruits of that research are now becoming apparent.
Just over two weeks ago, the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and the German company BioNTech announced the results of phase 3 trials showing that a vaccine they had jointly developed had an efficacy rate of around 95 per cent. That announcement was followed soon after by Moderna, with details of a vaccine of similar efficacy.
And on Monday of this week, Oxford University and the British-headquartered AstraZeneca announced successful phase 3 trials of a vaccine with an efficacy rate of up to 90 per cent and which, unlike the two others, could be stored in a normal refrigerator, rather than in conditions of extreme cold.
While these developments are, of course, extremely encouraging, a measure of caution is called for. All the vaccines need to obtain regulatory approval, though this is likely to be fast-tracked. There are then the small issues of ramping up manufacture, ensuring efficient distribution and administering the doses to a population of over 65 million.
Nevertheless, despite the bureaucratic and logistical challenges, it seems we are entering a new stage in the battle against COVID-19, with the prospect of controlling, and even perhaps eliminating, the virus.
And that is the best news we have had all year.