Irish Times view on controlling Covid-19: more normal summer in store

Time to wean ourselves off stringent restrictions as the default option for suppressing the virus

Vaccinators Francis Galvin, Joan Love and Mary Hanafin administering Covid-19 vaccinations at the HSE Vaccination Centre in the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Vaccinators Francis Galvin, Joan Love and Mary Hanafin administering Covid-19 vaccinations at the HSE Vaccination Centre in the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

After many false dawns, there is a growing sense of optimism around Ireland’s efforts to suppress Covid-19. Not even a rise in cases at the end of this week could dispel the positivity being exuded by public health officials and Government ministers.

Vaccines are the main reason why the tide seems to be turning in the battle against the virus. Not only are they highly effective, but they also appear to limit transmission of the disease, as real-world evidence from Israel and the UK is showing. And while delivery stuttered in the early months of this year, supply lines for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in particular have improved.

The use of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines has been delayed or restricted in many countries after a link was identified between them and very rare but serious blood clots. But in an update on Friday, the European Medicines Agency reiterated that the benefits of the AstraZeneca jab continue to outweigh the risks, especially in older age groups. This will influence a decision, expected next week, on relaxing current limitations on the deployment of the vaccine in Ireland.

Threats remain, however, with the virus raging through many countries, particularly India and Brazil. Generally, these states have less access to vaccines than Ireland, so the situation is not comparable. New variants of Covid-19 are a danger, but one that is being contained here at present.

On the basis of current data and analysis, there seems to be no reason for the Government to pause or slow down the next phase of re-opening of society. Equally, there is no compelling case for speeding up the process, given the extent of vaccination so far. Calls from some politicians this week for an early reopening of pubs and resumption of foreign travel were predictable, but premature. We have been here before.

Given the growing clarity around vaccine supplies, the suppression of new variants and our improved capacity to identify and tackle outbreaks, we should be planning now for a transition to a more normal society over the summer. Businesses and individuals need clarity about the future, buttressed by a timetable for the easing of restrictions, even if this is subject to caveats should the virus surge again. The vaccinated, too, need to be given the freedom to mix and move about safely, given the protection they now enjoy.

Ireland has had a topsy-turvy pandemic. For a while during the third wave in January we had the worst infection rate in Europe. N ow we have relatively low virus levels compared to many other countries, albeit using one of the longest lockdowns worldwide. With other options now available, we must wean ourselves off stringent restrictions as the default option for suppressing Covid-19.

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