The Irish Times view on easing Covid restrictions
Greater clarity is needed in the next phase of reopening
People enjoying the good weather on Dublin’s Portmarnock Beach last weekend .Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
And so we reach another important decision point in the course of the pandemic. Some limited easing of restrictions is happening this week, but what about the announcements due on Thursday on what’s next? Bullish predictions of a couple of weeks ago have given way to more cautious pronouncements from Ministers. This change of tone is presumably related to the recent rise in infection numbers – and the uncertainties about the vaccination programme.
Above all clarity will be needed, not only on what to expect next, but the reasons for the various choicesbeing made. Looking forward to later in the summer, some decisions may have to remain on hold. Everyone wants to enjoy the summer, but within a framework which does not lead to unnecessary risks.
The Taoiseach has spoken about an outdoor summer – and an easing of outdoor and domestic travel restrictions should be possible. Rather that second-guessing people’s behaviour – for example fearing that people meeting in gardens would move indoors – a more realistic approach is for the Government to give clear messages of where danger lies. Overcomplicating the rules confuses the message. Clarity involves some simple guidelines for meeting outdoors and strong messaging on the danger of indoor gatherings until more people are vaccinated.
This will be an interim phase – we hope – as vaccination rollout covers more and more of the population. The difficult issue for the Government is judging the balance of vaccination and opening up. Experience in the UK and Israel will provide more guidance in the weeks ahead. The Government should be able to give some indicators on the staycation season, but may not be definitive – a sustainable reopening has to be the goal.
If the vaccination programme can accelerate – the latest advice from NIAC will now have to be factored in – then the outlook should be improved by June. Uncertainties about variants remain, but the clear signs are that vaccines do work, perhaps even better than we might have hoped.