Commemorative events were held across the State on Sunday to remember and reflect on the extraordinary events of the past two years, when a once-in-a-century-pandemic shook the country. It was a solemn occasion, devoted as it was to recalling the more than 6,600 people who died with Covid-19, but it was also a moment to show gratitude to the frontline and essential workers who cared for the sick and ensured that vital services were maintained through the darkest periods of the health crisis.
Commemorations normally occur in peacetime, yet the war against Covid continues. The weekend ceremonies occurred against a backdrop of real concern over the latest spike in cases of the disease. More than 1,300 people with Covid are in hospital, the highest level since February 2021, and while the official case-count is unreliable due to the scaling back of routine PCR testing, it is very clear that the disease is rampant in the community. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has described it as the second Omicron wave.
A similar pattern is evident elsewhere in Europe, where cases are resurgent after a relative lull. Infections are also spiking in Britain, where cases rose by 26 per cent last week and Scotland is recording its highest infection rates of the pandemic so far. Some of that increase is being attributed to the highly infectious Omicron BA.2 sub-variant, which is also widespread in Ireland.
Simple acts such as mask-wearing in shops or on public transport are in one's own interest
The rise in cases calls for vigilance but not panic. Exceptionally high vaccine take-up as well as significant levels of infection-acquired immunity are putting up a strong defence against severe infection, with about half of those in hospital with Covid having been diagnosed "incidentally" when they were admitted for something else, Varadkar said. The numbers in intensive care remain stable. Prof Philip Nolan, a key public health adviser to Government, has called the current spike an "exit wave", consistent with the official view that the worst of the crisis is over.
For the authorities, vigilance means maintaining careful public health surveillance and ensuring that testing and vaccination structures remain capable of scaling up at short notice. The bar for reimposing restrictions has not been met, but the history of the past two years tells us that the situation can worsen very quickly. With the disease at its current high prevalence, the emergence of a new, more virulent strain cannot be discounted. For the public, meanwhile, vigilance means taking sensible precautions to avoid catching what is a very contagious and, even in the most benign scenario, highly disruptive illness.
Simple acts such as mask-wearing in shops or on public transport are in one’s own interest. But they are also small gestures of generosity and understanding, in particular towards those vulnerable citizens who are experiencing the current wave as a time of acute anxiety.