The Irish Times view on the Covid-19 response: a sequence of unforced errors

A positive reception for the reopening plan was undermined by foreseeable blunders elsewhere

Taoiseach Micheál Martin managed to strike a convincing balance between realism and hope, urging people to stick with the national effort for one last push while holding out the promise of a gradual – and, it is hoped, definitive – reopening over the coming months. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin managed to strike a convincing balance between realism and hope, urging people to stick with the national effort for one last push while holding out the promise of a gradual – and, it is hoped, definitive – reopening over the coming months. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

 

With a sure-footed grace that made the Ever Given look like a nimble speedboat, the Government got its one big task right this week only to find itself mired in the fallout from two unforced errors that should easily have been foreseen.

It’s the little things that trip you up, Albert Reynolds said. By no conventional measure could changes to a mass vaccination programme or the extension of mandatory quarantine for travellers be counted as little. Yet compared to the centrepiece of the pandemic response this week – the setting out of a plan to ease restrictions and plot a route back towards normality – they ought not have been the source of such controversy.

The reception of the latest roadmap was as positive as Government could have hoped. Despite the stress and tension that has built up over three months of lockdown, the public understands the dangers posed by rising incidence of Covid-19 and appears willing to accept the extension of most restrictions until the vaccine effect begins to show on a large scale. Taoiseach Micheál Martin managed to strike a convincing balance between realism and hope, urging people to stick with the national effort for one last push while holding out the promise of a gradual – and, it is hoped, definitive – reopening over the coming months.

Far more problematic for Government was its simultaneous and unexpected announcement that the vaccination priority list was to be amended, replacing preferential positioning by occupation with an age-based sequence. The change was recommended by public health officials, who say it is more efficient and more equitable, reflecting as it does the close correlation between age and illness from the virus. Teachers’ unions, who had no warning of the change, were indignant. A great deal of the damage could have been avoided with proper communication: there is a sound scientific rationale for the change, and the accelerating vaccine rollout over the coming months means that many of those affected will only have to wait a few weeks longer than under the previous list. Its purpose is to speed up the process for everyone, and to ensure protection for those who are most likely to get seriously ill. But you would have struggled to hear that this week.

The shambles on mandatory quarantine was even more inexplicable. A leaked plan in the Department of Health to extend hotel quarantine to travellers from 43 additional countries, including the United States and western European states, caught everyone off guard – not least the Department of Foreign Affairs, which pushed back in uncharacteristically blunt terms. By Thursday the plan had been abandoned – at least for now – but the impression created by the outcome is that there is one rule for Ireland’s western allies and another for people from poor, far-off places that do little business here.

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