Throughout the pandemic, we have been told our actions and decisions on public health measures will be led by the science.
But what happens when even the scientists don’t have the answers?
At a media briefing with the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser earlier this week, neither were able to say with certainty what Omicron means for Northern Ireland.
They were able to tell us it will likely be the dominant variant here at some stage shortly after Christmas and that modelling is currently being updated to try and forecast its impact.
Even with this work ongoing, a Department of Health document this week made some worrying predictions.
Prior to the arrival of Omicron here, hospital occupancy was below the least severe scenario, it said.
Not exactly a comforting assessment of the current state of the health service.
More concerning, however, it warned: “It is anticipated that this picture will change rapidly with the emergence of Omicron.”
At the moment, we are very much reliant on watching the pandemic pan out in South Africa, where Omicron was first identified.
It appears to be infecting younger age groups, but that has tended to be the pattern with earlier variants, and the infection inevitably makes its way into older, more vulnerable age groups.
Not enough time has passed yet to accurately assess the impact on hospitalisations and there is some suggestion that Omicron leads to less severe illness than Delta.
If indeed this is the case, there are some who have celebrated this as a positive development, but it must be tempered by the real possibility that Omicron is more infectious than Delta.
If this is the case, as the maths suggests, the effects would be disastrous.
For example, if Delta infects 1,000 people and 7% of them require hospitalisation, that would mean 70 Covid-19 patients taking up beds.
Turning to Omicron, if it infects 2,000 people and 5% need hospital treatment, that would mean an additional 100 Covid-19 inpatients for a system already stretched to breaking point.
The argument for taking quick and decisive action was made on Thursday night, with Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, appealing to countries to act now.
“Even though we still need answers to some crucial questions, we are not defenceless against Omicron or Delta,” he said.
“The steps countries take today and in the coming days and weeks will determine how Omicron unfolds.
“If countries wait until their hospitals start to fill up, it’s too late. Don’t wait. Act now.”
Returning to the science, this seems like a logical argument to make.
We know there is a lag time between infection and hospitalisation, and a further period before patients become so unwell that they require critical care or even die.
By the time we get clear answers about the danger posed by Omicron, with a doubling rate believed to be in the region of three days, it will already have a firm hold on the Northern Ireland population.
What we do now decides the trajectory of the pandemic in the weeks and months ahead.
So, why isn’t the Executive taking more decisive action now to slow the spread of a variant that could potentially cause disaster?
There are cynics who believe the emergence of Omicron has come at a convenient time to encourage more people to be vaccinated and adhere to the likes of face coverings.
But in reality, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for politicians eager to keep voters on side.
Here we are, two weeks before Christmas with thousands of people preparing to travel around the UK to reunite with family and friends.
At the same time, financial supports such as furlough have ceased and we are trying to rebuild our fragile economy, while also attempting to find a balance between social mixing over the festive period and suppressing an airborne virus.
After almost two years of draconian restrictions, people are fed up and an increasing number are rebelling against, ignoring, or simply forgetting even the most basic public health measures.
All this at a time of waning immunity and while the health service copes with normal winter pressures, an exhausted workforce and the consequences of spiralling hospital waiting lists.
Even a small rise of Covid-19 inpatients could prove to be too much for the NHS.
Yet, move now on restrictions and it turns out Omicron isn’t such a disaster after all and the politicians will never be forgiven by the voting public.
However, put in place additional measures now that actually stop the health service from collapsing in January and there will be plenty who will complain the absence of a crippling Covid-19 wave is proof they were never required in the first place.
Isn’t it the case that health minister Robin Swann is still being pilloried for his warnings of a Covid-19 death toll of biblical proportions as he made the case for lockdown?
Another factor likely to be playing a role in how the Executive responds is whether Westminster will fund support packages for businesses affected by any measures put in place now.
The chances of Boris Johnson loosening the purse strings to cover the cost of our Omicron strategy while similar measures aren’t in place in England are remote.
Ultimately, and probably most importantly, who wants to be the politician seen to be cancelling Christmas?
The Executive didn’t want to do it last year and that was without an Assembly election just months away.