The good news for the Government in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll is that a substantial majority of people are willing to take the Covid-19 vaccine. The bad news is that there are divided views on whether its lockdown strategy is too strict or too lenient and it is bound to antagonise some people whatever it does in the coming months.
On the positive side, 80 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to take the vaccine tomorrow if it was available. Among the over 65s, the group most vulnerable to serious illness or death, the figure rises to 94 per cent. It means that in contrast to some other European countries there should be no problem about getting the bulk of the population to take the vaccine.
At present supply is the only constraint on the vaccination programme. The plan is to ramp it up quickly when enough vaccine becomes available and all going well a substantial majority of the population should have received it by the end of June. If that happens the Government may be able to recover some of the public confidence the poll shows it has lost in recent months.
One obstacle to the restoration of confidence is that there are divided views on the best strategy to adopt. While 43 per cent of people think the Government has got it about right, a substantial 31 per cent believes there are too many restrictions damaging the economy and business unnecessarily while 24 per cent believe there are not enough restrictions to safeguard public health.
When it comes to the order in which restrictions should be lifted, the public is broadly in line with the Government, giving priority to the immediate reopening of schools, followed closely by construction. There is less concern about home visits, inter-county travel and non-essential retail but a majority would like to see a return to normal by the summer.
Nothing like the same priority is accorded to indoor dining or the reopening of pubs, with a majority content to see them remain closed for the summer. There is a similar attitude to travelling abroad, with most believing it should not be allowed until most of the population has been vaccinated.
The scale of divergent opinion is illustrated by the response to a question about whether people are favour the “living with covid” strategy of getting back to normal, once the elderly and vulnerable have been vaccinated, or whether they would prefer “zero covid”, which would mean keeping restrictions in place until the virus is close to elimination.
While 68 per cent favoured the Government strategy, a significant minority of 30 per cent opted for zero Covid with ongoing restrictions for as long as it takes. The Government will have its work cut out to get the balance right in the months ahead.