How to behave as restrictions ease, by Luke O’Neill, Mary Horgan and Paul Gilligan

People will need to get used to the changes, and should do so at their own pace

The lifting of almost all Covid-19 restrictions was announced by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, starting from 6am this weekend. Video: RTE

 

People will need to get used to the changes as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, and should be allowed to do so at their own pace, says one of Ireland’s leading infectious disease experts.

Ultimately, we can return to our normal lives with confidence, says a leading scientist. But doing so is something of a “journey”, says a top a clinical psychologist.

Prof Mary Horgan: Keep up protective habits

“A lot of people will choose to do things more slowly – at their own pace – and that’s acceptable as the responsibility is being put back on people as we move into a much better place in the pandemic,” says Prof Mary Horgan, President of the Royal College of Physicians and consultant in infectious diseases.

She argues that members of the public should feel comfortable about continuing to wear masks in situations where wearing masks makes them feel safer. “We got used to the things that protect us – like wearing masks and meeting outdoors – and keeping up these habits will protect us from other respiratory viruses too,” says Professor Horgan.

The key, according to Professor Horgan – is not to be afraid to interact with people who are vulnerable and for vulnerable people not to be afraid to interact with everyone else. “People should not be fearful but mindful of what they are doing, who they are doing it with and where they are doing it,”she adds, advising people to continue to follow public health guideance if they have symptoms of Covid-19.

Prof Luke O’Neill: Go back to normal life

Prof Luke O’Neill, immunologist at Trinity College Dublin says that people who are immuno-compromised should get N95 masks and wear them in public places but everyone else – who has got their Covid-19 vaccine boosters, can be confident to go back to their normal lives.

“The Omicron wave is now passing. Covid-19 will come back but the pandemic is ending in Ireland, ” says Prof O’Neill, who argues that testing will no longer be as important as vast numbers of people get Omicron across Europe.

“There will be no point in testing for it if a large per cent of the population get it so the media should stop reporting daily case numbers but maybe keep up weekly case numbers to keep us all informed,” says Prof O’Neill.

Public health experts have cautioned that case numbers may rise as restrictions ease but that restrictive measures in the context of a mild illness are deemed to be of little value.

Paul Gilligan: Have a strategy

Paul Gilligan, chief executive of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services in Dublin, says that people will be going a psychological journey as well as a physical journey with the imminent easing of most of the Covid-19 restrictions in Ireland.

“We need to give people permission to accept that the pandemic has had a significant psychological impact on us all and there will be a psychological journey as well as a physical journey to take with the opening up of restrictions,” says While he acknowledges that some people will see the removal of curfews on bars, restaurants and increased audience numbers at indoor and outdoor venues as an opportunity to go back to all the things they missed, others will have increased health anxiety.

“We have to recognise that some of us will experience mental health difficulties and those who were impacted by loneliness, loss and health anxiety during the pandemic may have a post-traumatic stress reaction with the lifting of restrictions.”

Gilligan who is a clinical psychologist, says that the most important first step is to be self-aware and honest with ourselves while acknowledging our feelings and those of others.

“Have a strategy about how you will cope. If you decide to continue to meet people outdoors and gradually get back into going into bars or to the cinema, negotiate that in an open and honest way with people,” he advises.