One thing that has genuinely been remarkable to witness over the course of Ireland’s covid journey is how the comparisons between Ireland and the UK in the Irish media have…… sort of disappeared? You will recall, of course, that in the early days of the pandemic, Irish journalists and political types could not stop comparing Ireland to the UK: How lucky we were, after all, they said, to have a competent administration during a time of crisis, and not to have been lumped with that blonde buffoon in London, who was surely going to kill half the people of Britain.
That tune died a bit of a death, didn’t it?
WATCH LIVE: COVID-19 press conference (5 April 2021)
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) April 5, 2021
To be clear, in the UK, unlike some places in the USA, like Texas, there will still be plenty of restrictions in place. Pubs, while open, will initially only be permitted to serve people outdoors, rather than indoors. With the decent weather these islands are presently experiencing, and as we head into summer, that should not be too much of an imposition. Masks, too, will remain mandatory.
But make no mistake: Next week, life in Ireland and the UK will be as different as night and day. That is the difference, as the Irish media used to say, between having a competent Government and having dangerous buffoons in charge.
The pubs and the shops and the holiday camps will get all the attention, of course, but perhaps most significant is that the UK now feels safe enough to allow people to visit their relatives in care homes and hospitals on a pretty much unrestricted basis. There are no longer any restrictions, either, on visiting family, or socialising with friends. That, more than anything else, will be a huge relief for many Britons, and the thing that will perhaps make us in Ireland more jealous.
“We see nothing in the present data”, Johnson said at the press conference, “to make us think that we will have to deviate from this course”.
It is not the whole UK though: Northern Ireland will not see its pubs open next week, or things get back to any semblance of normal. That is good news for the Irish Government, which won’t have to worry about a rush across the border to drink and get your hair done. But it is terrible news for the people of Northern Ireland, whose suffering, in this case, is being extended primarily because they share an island with the rest of us.
Britain has now vaccinated over 31 million people – that’s almost half the population, and heading towards the number where the number of people with antibodies to Coronavirus should begin to meet the threshold for a degree of herd immunity in the population. Ireland has yet to reach a quarter of the population vaccinated, though there is hope we should reach a million people this week.
In truth, the difference between Ireland and the UK is likely to be little more than a few months. The Irish Government, yesterday, said that it expected hospitality to open in July. That’s two months of a difference – over a lifetime, it’s not huge. But for many businesses, it could still mean the difference between survival and extinction.
It is fair to say that the UK Government made a slow, and shaky start to its response to Covid 19. But it’s also fair to say this: Over the past four months, they have made the Irish Government, and Irish politicians, look very poor indeed by comparison.