The Irish Times view on reopening: a time for vigilance, not fear

Despite progress in the battle against Covid-19, it’s important not to lose sight of the dangers it continues to pose

Publicans are preparing to resume outdoor service from June 7th. Photograph: Leon Farrell / RollingNews.ie

Publicans are preparing to resume outdoor service from June 7th. Photograph: Leon Farrell / RollingNews.ie

 

Not since the pandemic began have the key Covid-19 indicators for Ireland painted a brighter picture. Weekly case numbers are declining steadily, the death rate has collapsed and fewer than 100 people are in hospital with the disease across the island.

Crucially – and this is the important difference between the current situation and the lull of last summer – the relationship between case numbers and serious illness has altered dramatically. That is largely the result of the accelerating and well-run vaccination campaign, which has given the vulnerable protection against the virus and enabled the Government to ease restrictions. It’s a measure of progress that we now take for granted that all adults in Ireland will soon have received a vaccine that just a year ago did not exist. In the coming weeks, the last restrictions will be lifted. While the virus will remain among us for some time, and basic disease prevention measures will remain in place, the summer should mark the passing of the worst phase in the pandemic.

Naturally, the country’s focus is already widening beyond the public health emergency. The crisis in housing never went away, but the prospect of workplaces reopening and the rental and sales markets getting busier has rekindled public anger over the chronic situation in the sector. The long-term effects of the pandemic – on children’s development, on mental health, on urban life and on the future of work – are no longer abstract concerns for future consideration but real issues that must now be reckoned with.

Despite progress in the battle against Covid-19, it’s important not to lose sight of the dangers it continues to pose. The next phase of the pandemic is not preordained. The emergence of more transmissible variants has complicated decisions on reopening in Britain and elsewhere; the same could happen here should strains such as Delta (also known as the Indian variant) spread more widely. If any new strains put up significant resistance to the approved vaccines, the situation could become very serious very quickly. Even without such resistance, there is always a danger that the vaccination campaign could again be stalled by unexpected regulatory or supply issues.

The right response to such risks is not fear but vigilance. After a long, traumatic period, people have developed good protective instincts and adherence to public health advice remains very strong. For its part, the Government and its agencies must prepare for any sudden reversal by keeping the health service on high alert, maintaining test-and-trace capacity so that the system can respond quickly to any spike in cases and closely monitoring global epidemiological trends for signs of concern. Perhaps none of this will be needed. But if the pandemic offers one lesson, it is that preparing for the worst is a sensible posture for any Government to take.

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