The Irish Times view on Covid-19: A winter crisis must be averted

Efficiency that marked first phase of vaccination campaign no longer evident

The public by a two-to-one majority takes a positive view of the Government’s handling of the pandemic, according to the results of an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/

The countdown to Christmas is freighted with bitter memories of this time 12 months ago, when premature relaxation of public health measures enabled Covid-19 to run rampant through the community.

As a result a strict and lengthy lockdown was required through early 2021 to protect a largely unvaccinated population from illness and death. The “meaningful” Christmas that people were promised gave way to perhaps the darkest chapter of the pandemic.

The difference between then and now is that 92 per cent of over-12s in the State are now fully vaccinated against the virus. Even though protection from the two-shot regimen fades with time, it is still proving remarkably resolute against severe sickness: unvaccinated people make up just 13 per cent of total positive cases at present but account for 46 per cent of ICU patients. Studies show that the third shot quickly restores the body’s resistance.

But the pandemic has taught us never to assume the worst is over. Even if the Omicron variant turns out to produce milder disease – and it is still too early to say if that is true – a significant rise in transmissibility could still, through sheer force of numbers, put hospitals under pressure very quickly.


And while vaccines have weakened the link between infection and the worst outcomes, there is always the possibility that Omicron or another variant will evade the jabs. Meanwhile, a small but important share of the population continues to refuse any vaccine at all.

Health authorities believe Omicron could become the dominant strain in Ireland within weeks. Unfortunately the country is not as well placed as it could be to deal with the impact of that still little-understood variant. Daily case numbers are stable but far too high.

Hospitals are never far from capacity. The testing regime is badly stretched. Of particular concern has been the patchy rollout of the booster shot, which was too slow in receiving the regulatory green light and has been beset by delays and confusion ever since.

There appear to be no supply problems this time. Demand is very strong. And yet the efficiency that marked the first phase of the vaccination campaign is no longer evident.

As the results of this week's Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll showed, the public has a realistic view of what may be required. People are strongly – and rightly – opposed to closing schools or colleges, but there is greater acceptance of measures such as limits on indoor gatherings or even restrictions on international travel.

The public by a two-to-one majority takes a positive view of the Government’s handling of the pandemic. That buys ministers some room for manoeuvre, but not much. If current failings in the official approach are seen to contribute to another winter crisis, the Government will not easily be forgiven.