Miriam Lord: To dance or not to dance – that is the question

Covid’s setback now further compromised by a severe case of The Anomalies

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine : ‘You could probably dance to the bar for a drink’.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine : ‘You could probably dance to the bar for a drink’.

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It only seems like yesterday when Covid was sitting up in bed doing the crossword and contemplating a soft boiled egg for breakfast.

The patient had been progressing and the Government told everyone to expect a full discharge on October 22nd, this Friday. There would be dancing again in dimly lit places where lips collide and drink is served into the early hours.

Nightclubs would reopen and live full capacity concerts would resume and people would be allowed sit once more at a bar counter in a public house prior to falling into a dimly lit place after midnight.

But on Tuesday, it fell to the Taoiseach to break the bad news to the Dáil.

“The virus has taken a turn for the worst” announced Micheál Martin, with a heavy heart. “The trajectory went kinda wrong over the last two weeks.”

Not only that, but Covid’s setback is now further compromised by a severe case of The Anomalies. Nobody understands The Anomalies, not least the government. But they are causing severe anxiety for the hospitality and entertainment industry.

Covid’s worsening condition has put the kibosh on a full reopening of these sectors. Or has it?

Immediately before the Dáil sitting, the Government held a press conference to outline details of the long awaited and much anticipated return of carousing. But after all the talking the rules for re-engagement were clear as mud.

Neither the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste nor the leader of the Green Party were in a position to offer a solid prognosis for how Ireland will cope with Covid in the coming months while complications arising from The Anomalies left them sounding very hazy on detail about Friday’s lifting of restrictions.

It’ll be February now at the earliest before they can give any sort of long-term update.

Here’s Leo Varadkar - he is a qualified doctor: “You know, the absolutely easiest thing to do is to shut down the country and the second easiest thing to do is to open it up fully” mused Dr Leo, prodding the landscape around Covid’s distended belly.

Yep. Just as he suspected.

“Everything between is full of anomalies and full of complications.”

‘Evolve, develop and deliver’

What to do?

“We have to help provide the pass, the mask, the test and the boost” said Eamon Ryan. The sectors which have been waiting to get going for nearly two years will get “further details” as they reopen and “we are going to have to evolve, develop and deliver.”

The three leaders stressed that the usual basics - masks, hand hygiene and social distancing - will apply across the board, except where anomalies arise in which case “sector-specific guidance and protocols” will be dispensed.

Did this mean social distancing might not be required in nightclubs?

To dance or not to dance - that is the simple question.

“So, I’m not going into the specific details” Micheál told Sean Defoe of Newstalk. “It’s the generality.”

Just three days out from their big reopening, after months and months of discussion about it, do hard pressed club and music venue owners not deserve more than mere “generality”?

And then the Taoiseach told his (predominantly) youthful audience of political reporters “what traditionally happens in a nightclub will continue to happen in a nightclub.”

That got a knowing laugh from the crowd.

Under the new carousing code, the ban on pub patrons approaching or sitting at a bar counter continues. But in a club, they will be able to sashay up and order what they want.

Then there are the live music concerts in big venues. Strictly no dancing in the aisles. No standing up. Sitting down dancing only, and socially distanced at that. It’s the sanitised hand jive or nothing. Where’s the sense in that, with tickets already sold out for major standing events on the back of the Government’s promise of an October 22nd reopening?

Micheál muttered about “practical arrangements” having to be made in some circumstances.

“There will be anomalies - straight up with you. There will be anomalies.”

Sketchy proposals

In the Dáil, Catherine Murphy, co-leader of the Social Democrats, couldn’t get her head around the sketchy proposals currently causing consternation in the nighttime hospitality sector.

“It’s very confusing” she sighed, blasting the Government for “yet another startling display of confusion, incoherence and chaos.” She forgot to mention “contradiction”.

Three days out from reopening and the rules have been rewritten with business closed for the best part of two years going to “get advice at the last possible moment” on how to start up again. Ah well.

“You could probably dance to the bar for a drink,” she supposed.

But the reason the rejigged restrictions are so late in the day is because Covid took a turn for the worst when nobody was expecting it, argued the Taoiseach. “Covid does not respect weekly decision making on a precision basis.”

His Cabinet gets no credit for anything. The Oppostion was dead set against previous restrictions and measures brought in by the Government. They screamed blue murder over the introduction of vaccination certificates last Summer, yet this facilitated the reopening of much of the hospitality industry.

“Anything we have reopened so far has stayed open” sniffed Micheál, yet he wasn’t hearing any Oppostion voices the Opposition. “Always trying to pick holes.”

Aontú’s Peadar Tóibín wanted a Dáil debate on the Government’s handling of the crisis. Ireland has severe restrictions and high vaccination rates yet Covid numbers are high and rising.

“By any measure this is a disaster and failure of government,” said Tóibín.

The Taoiseach rejected his assertion and his “completely wrong and inappropriate” language. “I know enough about a global pandemic - they can come back to bite you at anytime” he told Peadar.

The Government’s latest decision was “taking note of the fact that the trajectory of the virus has taken a turn for the worse”.

The mean some key protections had to be retained, such as “the vaccination cert, which I know you were virulently against” and masks and other issues where appropriate.

Micheál’s statement enraged the Meath TD, who returned to the House before the Taoiseach left demanding an apology. Aontú was never “anti-mask” he fulminated. “That is absolutely not true,” he shouted.

Bernard Durkan, in the chair, battled to maintain order. As the shouting intensified, Bernard was in danger of becoming more airborne than the Covid virus. The Taoiseach, meanwhile, watched briefly then gathered his papers and left.

Deputy Tóibín said he had the audio of this “slur” for evidence. But perhaps, if he plays it again, he might find that the Taoiseach did not call him or his party anti-maskers. It was merely his Cork cadence confusing the matter.

As if any more confusion was needed.

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