The Irish Times view on easing restrictions: glimpsing light amidst darkness

Ireland has paid a heavy price in its effort to suppress Covid-19

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD speaking to the media at Government Buildings on the next phase of the roadmap for reopening society and business following a Cabinet meeting on Friday. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD speaking to the media at Government Buildings on the next phase of the roadmap for reopening society and business following a Cabinet meeting on Friday. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

 

It may be years before we can arrive at a definitive judgment as to the State’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. We know that the gains we have made in the fight against the disease have come at an unavoidably high cost. Hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs, businesses have collapsed, children have lost out on schooling and over-70s have been left isolated and lonely. The toll on mental health may not be fully apparent for some time. The Republic’s death toll has been high by international standards, and we have been hit harder than a number of small EU states, including Greece and Denmark, that acted faster than we did to contain the spread of the virus earlier this year.

Moreover, devastating clusters in hundreds of Irish nursing homes resulted in more than half of all Covid-19 deaths occurring in such institutions; posing important questions about preparation and planning and, more fundamentally, about public policy relating to care for older people.

At the same time, the country this weekend marks an important milestone in the national effort against the coronavirus. The Government, taking account of the positive trends of recent weeks and the broadly encouraging experiences of other European states, has accelerated the phased resumption of social and economic life, giving a weary population cause for hope and optimism after a dreadfully difficult three months. At this important moment, it is worth pausing to acknowledge the huge contribution of those, from frontline health workers to retail staff to public transport workers and refuse collectors, who gave selflessly to keep essential services functioning and in turn gave us a lesson in patriotism. It is worth acknowledging too that the worst-case scenario – an overwhelmed health system – has been averted and that, while errors were made along the way, the Governmental and official handling of the crisis has been led by serious, competent and committed people who acted with the best interests of the country at heart. We don’t need to look far to see that bad leadership can made a public health crisis infinitely worse.

As we prepare to ease the most stringent restrictions, we do well to remind ourselves that these gains are for now temporary and contingent. Covid-19 is still a deadly disease and it is still circulating in the community, albeit at low levels. Our health system is still vulnerable to a sudden spike in infections, and our proximity to Britain, one of the world’s worst-affected countries, increases our exposure. This is why continued adherence to the public health measures remains essential over the next six weeks.

After all the country has gone through, however, we should also savour these moments of hope, take pride in our social solidarity and allow ourselves to dwell on the possibility of better days ahead.

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