The Irish Times view on the Living with Covid plan: steering a course towards the exit

The Government’s big test is a vaccination programme that holds the key to ending the crisis

Taoiseach Micheál Martin givign a televised address at Government Buildings in Dublin on Tuesday. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

Taoiseach Micheál Martin givign a televised address at Government Buildings in Dublin on Tuesday. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

 

Any reopening plan in the age of Covid-19 is fraught with danger. At one level, our experience of the disease tells us that any attempt to set a course for the coming months is mere hubris in the face of a threat that has always been unpredictable but has been made far more so by the emergence of new, more transmissible strains.

Any plan is liable to be torn up by the epidemiological reality, as the Government has learned to its cost, having had to amend its original Living with Covid framework almost as soon as it had been published last September. Scarred by the national emergency that followed what was, it is now clear, a misguided re-opening in December, ministers are rightly worried about relaxing prematurely.

Still, there is a political imperative to provide the public with a sense of the direction of travel. Across the country, people are hurting. Many have lost loved ones. Others are without work, have had their wages slashed or struggle daily with the mental burden of these lonely, stressful times. So in producing a new iteration of its exit strategy, the Government had to strike a careful balance, indicating priorities and providing clarity where possible but withholding false reassurance and retaining for itself the space to execute a sharp turn if necessary.

Of most importance is the timetable for reopening schools. It should have happened sooner, but the gradual return to education over the coming weeks is an essential step. It will not undo the damage done to many children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, by the latest extended closure, but it is correctly prioritised in the new plan. The State must do everything in its power to keep schools open from now on. More broadly, the Government is right not to bind itself to an explicit schedule or to link each step in the reopening schedule to certain criteria. The situation remains too fragile and too unpredictable for that.

The public has shown it can fulfil its side of the bargain. The onus now is on Government to show it can steer the country through what we all hope will be the final stage of the crisis. Its botched communications in recent weeks do not augur well. But the biggest test it now faces is the vaccination programme that promises to “transform the landscape,” as Taoiseach Micheál Martin put it yesterday. The rollout to date has been too slow – for reasons of supply that were, for the most part, beyond the State’s control. But it is quickly picking up pace, and the ramp-up in deliveries signalled by the Taoiseach in his televised address – a million doses every month from April onwards – will place responsibility for the rollout solely on the shoulders of Government.

Get it right and the worst of this nightmare will soon be over. Get it wrong and we will pay a heavy price.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.