Jennifer Bray: While Taoiseach says we are on ‘the final stretch’, public is wary of the path ahead

The key test is whether the promised vaccines will be delivered fairly and on time

In moving to announce the first general easing of Covid-19 restrictions since the State entered Level 5 last December, the Government has found itself hamstrung by the threat of a fourth wave of the coronavirus and a stuttering vaccination campaign.

This is the third time that the Government has attempted to chart a way out of a strict lockdown, and by the time travel restrictions are eased on April 12th the country will have been living under Level 5 measures for more than 100 days.

In agreeing a vague outline for what could happen in May and June – the reopening of shops, hairdressers and the rest of construction and then latterly hotels – the Cabinet implicitly acknowledged that a longer-term goal was needed at a time when the Government stands accused of losing the dressing room.

Ministers will be hoping that the plan to allow increased travel and more outdoor activities in April, and the promise of a return to shops and barbers in May, will be enough to secure the crucial buy-in of the public at a time when compliance has been fraying.


There was little in Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s announcement, however, for hospitality beyond a vague promise of a summer reopening for hotels and guesthouses in June.

Representative groups for restaurants, hotels and pubs have implored the Government to provide a clear roadmap for reopening with tangible metrics but this has not been forthcoming.

This, Government sources say, is partly because of the unpredictability of the new coronavirus variants, but also because there is a reluctance to deviate too far from public health advice given what happened last Christmas.


Although Martin expressed optimism about the return of some aspects of hospitality in June, there are fears in Government that even one misstep could lead to a fourth wave which would wipe out all aspirations and ambitions for the summer and lead to restrictions being reimposed.

Anxiety about moving too fast was behind the decision to push out the easing of restrictions until April 12th instead of April 5th, alongside a desire to see the unobstructed return of secondary students in the middle of the month.

There were other big-ticket items announced by the Government on Tuesday including plans to allow vaccinated people to meet indoors which represents the first time a reopening plan has factored in a general vaccine bonus.

There also appears to be plans to tighten up restrictions on incoming travel. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar promised that passengers will have to take a PCR test when they arrive as well as when they depart.

When it comes to reopening the economy and wider society, the Government has pinned its hopes on a burgeoning vaccination campaign.

Describing the coming months as the “final stretch”, the Taoiseach said the plan is to have “close to” three million doses administered by the end of May, rising to almost five million in early July and six million doses by the end of July. The mantra of the last few months has been that the programme has been limited only by supply.

Terrible journey

At a time when the Government is asking the public to hold firm for another eight weeks, and when serious issues have emerged around the administration of vaccinations to groups outside the priority list, the key test ahead is whether the promised vaccines will be delivered fairly and on time.

While the Taoiseach said that the country is “on the final stretch of this terrible journey”, the experience of the last 12 months has made the public understandably wary about the path ahead.