Yesterday, we reported that Texas became the first US state to lift all Coronavirus restrictions, including – controversially – the statewide facemask mandate. From today, Texans are free to go about living their lives just like they did when the Coronavirus was still a twinkle in the eye of an imprisoned, and illegally captured, pangolin in a Chinese wet market.
Texas, of course, is a very stereotypical, conservative, Republican, right wing state. So it’s probably easy for a lot of Irish people to write what Texas is doing off as “irresponsible madness”. In that, Irish people have a sound ally – President Joe Biden – who called the moves “neanderthal”.
But Connecticut, on the other hand, is about as much the opposite of Texas as it is possible to get. And, according to their Democratic Governor, Ned Lamont, the state is just about ready for an almost complete re-opening:
BREAKING: Effective March 19 … Connecticut is lifting ALL capacity limits on restaurants, retail, libraries, personal services, indoor recreation, gyms, museums, offices & houses of worship #nbc4ny pic.twitter.com/kV1qylyvjI
— Steven Bognar (@Bogs4NY) March 4, 2021
They’re not going quite as far as Texas is, mind you: For one thing, the facemask mandate will remain in place. For another thing, bars will still need to serve food if they want to re-open (though this is less a problem in the US, where most bars serve food anyway). There will still be some capacity limits on mass gatherings – no more than 25 people indoors in a private residence, or 100 indoors at a commercial event.
But be in no doubt: Compared to Ireland, this is almost unrestricted liberty.
And it is liberty that has come at a vastly lesser economic cost. Though Connecticut is by no means an economic dynamo – in fact, its recent economic performance is amongst the weakest of any US State – the most recent unemployment figures put the percentage of jobless people in the state at about 7%. This is in line with the US national unemployment figure, and vastly better than Ireland’s present adjusted unemployment rate, which is 25%.
It really is worth pondering, then, how it is exactly that so many places around the world are either re-opening, or preparing to re-open, while Ireland lumbers on through one of the most destructive lockdowns in the western world, with no end in sight, at least in the near term.
Part of it, surely, is excessive caution, and an atmosphere of unjustified fear. If you speak these days words like “the virus isn’t that bad, for most people”, there’s a certain section of the population which automatically assumes you’re a conspiracy theorist who thinks that covid-19 is “just the flu”. But it’s perfectly possible to believe that Covid is real, poses a particular danger to the sick and the elderly, and at the same time is not nearly so great a threat as many people seem to think. That’s the position they’re taking in most of the USA, for example, where the plan can be summed up as “vaccinate the elderly and those most at risk, and then open back up”.
It helps, of course, that they’re vaccinating much more quickly than Ireland is.
But the main problem in Ireland is that a significant chunk of the population – including most of the establishment – seem to have bought hook, line, and sinker into the idea that we can only begin to re-open our economy once almost every adult has been vaccinated.
The Government, last year, launched a “living with Covid” plan. It was well named, because Covid is one of those things that we are going to have to live alongside – probably for years to come. The problem is that the Government had no sooner launched it than they abandoned it.
At some point, Irish people are going to stop looking inwards, and start looking outwards at what is happening in the rest of the world. And when they do, they will realise that we have inflicted, and are continuing to inflict, horrific economic wounds on ourselves, and on our own people, with very dubious justification.