As the Year of the Ox dawns, some may believe that a momentous occasion or event lies ahead. Ox years feature prominently in China’s modern history, coinciding with the establishment of the People’s Republic, return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty, start of the second Sino-Japanese war and death of founding father Sun Yat-sen. But for all the culture and tradition of the lunar calendar and its associated animal zodiac and the wisdom of those who try to predict the future, there can never be certainty. That has to be especially so with the Covid-19 pandemic still threatening global health, mutations casting shadows over nascent vaccination programmes and economies in the doldrums. For those eager to say goodbye to the Year of the Rat and its difficulties, that is not a good sign. Faithful followers of the Chinese zodiac and feng shui have already delved into what the future holds and they believe significant challenges lie ahead in the ox year. But for those who follow pure science rather than pseudoscience, there are bound to be uncertainties where a health crisis involving a new and dangerous virus is concerned. We do not know how the pandemic will evolve, if vaccines will be effective and whether we can resume our lives as before. The Chinese zodiac is based on 12 animals in a cycle and the ox is the second after the rat. Each creature is associated with one of five elements in a separate sequence of fire, wood, water, metal and earth. Tradition has it that the world is entering the last of a three-year water cycle and, for feng shui followers, that means there will be little to be happy about. Think downpours of rain or floods, sodden ground and mud; an ox, as strong as it is, can easily get bogged down in wet soil. There is a Chinese saying that you cannot force an ox’s head down if it is not drinking. While the creature is renowned for its strength and being hard working, it is also famed for being stubborn, proud and conservative. It is easy to appreciate the frustration of living through a water ox year, caught in a world in the grip of an evolving disease. We want to get back our old lives by vanquishing Covid-19, but vaccination roll-outs are slow, too many people are relaxed about following social-distancing rules and factors such as climate change and rivalry between the United States and China are making the likelihood of a prompt recovery bleak. But there is hope in the wisdom offered by the zodiac and Chinese culture. The ox is stubborn, but if its focus can be changed, it can be encouraged to use its strength to pull itself free of the mud. It has to be shown empathy and understanding. Therein lies the way out of the crisis; with hard work, persistence and compassion, we will be able to get through the tough times that still lie ahead in the Year of the Ox.