Following the news that the Pfizer vaccine will begin to be rolled out from next week, the Belfast Telegraph asked three experts - independent Sage member Dr Gabriel Scally, Ulster University senior economist Dr Esmond Birnie and Queen's University virologist Dr Connor Bamford - what lies ahead in the coming months. Here are their assessments...
What will January look like?
Dr Gabriel Scally: "I think it will be difficult. The relaxations over Christmas will set off another wave. The only good thing is that there will be a chance that some people will be protected. The vaccine won't bring major change because people need two doses of the vaccine. Time is needed for them to take effect."
Dr Connor Bamford: "January will be better for some people, in particular those who are most vulnerable and will have received one or maybe two doses of a vaccine, which will protect them. The rest of us will likely have to maintain some restrictions, such as social distancing and masks."
Dr Esmond Birnie: "I think, economically and socially, by January we will be pretty much still in the same position that we're currently in - namely, trying to strike this difficult balance. If infection rates are going down, we can ease restrictions to help the economy. But equally, if rates are edging up, some parts of the economy and society will be shut down. The general mood of people will hopefully be better.
What will Easter be like?
GS: "There will large numbers of people who will be vaccinated. The virus will not have gone away. It will be circulating and we're going to have continuing outbreaks. It still will be dangerous, but it will be much better."
CB: "We should be in a much better place than before but not completely out of the woods. The future of Covid worldwide depends on the effectiveness of the vaccines and their uptake. We hope that the vaccines available will stop you catching the virus and getting sick, and that the majority of the population can get access to them."
EB: "Given what we know about the planned rollout of the vaccine, hopefully we're much closer to normality and beginning to see ability to travel and holidays starting to return. I'm more hesitant about foreign travel because that depends on what other countries are doing in terms of their vaccine rollouts.
What will six months from today be like?
GS: "I think we'll still see sporadic outbreaks of the virus because the control mechanisms are not in place. Social restrictions will be considerably lessened, but I think people will remain cautious and worried that there could be outbreaks."
CB: "There will likely be a major relief of Covid, given movement into summer and greater uptake of the vaccine. Depending on how good the vaccines are, we will see differences in restrictions going forward. If the vaccines can protect you from spreading the virus, then high levels of uptake will allow us to approach normality."
EB: "All being well and there are no hiccups with the vaccine, it should be towards completion, and that will be very positive for the economy. On the one hand, there might be for some people some pent-up spending power, but not for all. Next year some people might book more holidays, but we don't know yet how strong that effect will be. Some capacity of the hospitality sector may have disappeared. There won't be as many hotels or attractions open."
As First Minister Arlene Foster put it, yesterday brought the news we had yearned for all year. A vaccine with a 95% protection rate against Covid-19 has been approved by the regulators, and the first vaccinations could begin as early as December 9.