They say that the trick to running a marathon is to understand that it is, in truth, a race of two halves.

The first 20 miles and the last six.

Thus it is with Covid-19.

This community has just put in the first half of a gruelling slog against a deadly and merciless virus, stretching from the early, fear-filled days of total lockdown in mid-March to the present day.

But it's the next 'half' of this momentous struggle, from now to the rollout of a vaccine in February-March, which will determine whether we cross the finish line with hands held high in grateful triumph or pull up short, bloodied, dejected and beaten.

We have it in our own hands, in large part, to determine our fate.

The protocols from government have been harsh on the economy, for sure, but overall they have prioritised health and wellbeing.

That's as it should be. For as our health correspondent and epidemiologist Dr Michael Donnelly has noted many times, there is no economy in Milltown Cemetery.

We live in an era when the soundbite-addicted media find it easy to make fall-guys of our politicians - teeing up angry Joe and Josephine Public to hammer MLAs for not doling out recovery funds to businesses quickly enough one week. Then, the following week, lambasting pols for disbursing money too swiftly and with not enough checks.

We caution instead a calmer and broader perspective. In the five-party Stormont coalition, quarrels, fallouts and differences of opinion are to be expected. The goal, therefore, between now and vaccine delivery, must be to seek maximum unity of purpose between the parties while pushing to the sidelines the DUP's Covid deniers. 

But that is not to say we should remain silent in face of government shortcomings when they become apparent - after all, lives are at stake.

That's why we welcome the impassioned plea this week from West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan for a test-and-trace system worthy of the name. For months now, he has fought a lone battle to expose the scandal of the woebegone Public Health Agency contact tracing operation, branding it no more useful than a chocolate fireguard. His warnings deserve an urgent response from the PHA rather than their endless obfuscation and paper-pushing exercises.

The foot will come off the Covid response pedal slightly over Christmas as families are allowed to bring loved ones and friends into their homes for the festive celebrations. It behoves us all, however, not to abuse this privilege. As the First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford has pointed out, this is advice about how families can gather for Christmas but it is certainly "not an instruction" for all of us to either meet up, travel or take unnecessary risks.

We have buried too many of our loved ones over the past eight months to let our guard down against the ruthless enemy that is the coronavirus. 

Instead, let's focus on the fact that another rule of marathon-running: the race is won more in the head than in the body. Optimism, determination, resilience — the traits which defined our people during our darkest days – are the qualities we need to draw on now.

Do that and we will surely complete this testing pandemic marathon and be able to say, as the Good Book has it, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."