The Irish Times view on the reopening: a bittersweet milestone

To continue to restrict people’s lives in the absence of a clear public health rationale could have undermined public trust

Taoiseach Micheál Martin s announced the lifting of almost all Covid-19 restrictions on Friday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Taoiseach Micheál Martin s announced the lifting of almost all Covid-19 restrictions on Friday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

 

Is this it? Almost two years after the arrival of Covid-19 on Irish shores forced the State to impose sweeping restrictions on social and economic life, the Government on Friday announced that nearly all those curbs are to be lifted from today. The prospect of significant easing had been signalled for more than a week, but the scale of the rollback will nonetheless have taken many people by surprise. A weary population that has endured some of the world’s longest lockdowns has grown accustomed to a cautious approach led by public health officials whose first concern has rightly been to protect a health service that even in normal times struggles to meet the demands put upon it. Just weeks ago, the Government was facing calls to close the schools.

From today, limits on household visits are gone. Pubs and restaurants can reopen as normal without social distancing. Indoor and outdoor events can go ahead at full capacity. From February 28th, even mask-wearing requirements will lapse. Irrespective of what happens next, this is a milestone. It is the clearest signal yet that the Government believes we are into the endgame.

For some, including all those young people who have been denied so many formative experiences over the last two years, it will be a time for celebration. Many others, even if they are apprehensive about the coming weeks and months, will feel that a heavy weight has been lifted. But for others, such as those who have weakened immune systems, the fear they have lived with since March 2020 will be much slower to pass. It will be a bittersweet moment for those who have lost loved ones to Covid.

While one can doubt the wisdom of some individual decisions – the immediate scrapping of the vaccine cert for indoor settings appears like a missed opportunity to encourage higher take-up of the booster shot, for example – the case for retaining such an onerous regime had gone. The most important indicators – the number of patients in hospital and in ICU – have been stable despite very high transmission, underlining how immunity from vaccines and boosters has given the public more protection than it has ever had against the virus. To continue to restrict people’s lives in the absence of a clear public health rationale could have undermined public trust and run the risk of losing buy-in for any future measures that may need to be introduced if the situation worsens.

That is a real possibility. The pandemic is far from over. Covid-19 is circulating so widely that new mutations are all but certain. If a deadlier strain, or one that escapes vaccine immunity were to emerge then the outlook could deteriorate quite quickly. But to be a realist is not to lose hope. And after two long years of trauma and fear, there have never been stronger grounds to believe that the worst may now be over.

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.