Taoiseach to Mirror: What we need now is…. more lockdown

There’s some consternation in the media this morning that the Taoiseach would make such an important and newsworthy announcement in an exclusive interview with, of all papers, the Irish Mirror. But while our friends in the Irish Times and the Independent might be a little sniffy that they didn’t get the scoop, my own view is that we should just be relieved that he’s put us out of our misery in a newspaper interview, and not another bloody address to the nation. Nine more weeks of lockdown is bad enough, without having to watch him sex it up with a few quotes from Bosco, or whoever:

“Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said “severe” lockdown restrictions will remain in place for at least another nine weeks – until the end of April.

In an exclusive interview with the Irish Mirror, Mr Martin indicated that the reopening of pubs and restaurants – and personal services such as hairdressers – may stay closed well beyond this date.

He said there will not be a full return to the construction sector by March 5, despite it being mooted by Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien.

Children returning to schools on a phased basis beginning with junior and senior infants and Leaving Cert students is the priority.”

Are we really surprised?

The Government’s living with Covid strategy, as ex-Minister and all-around good egg Lucinda Creighton implies here, has been something of a failure. They should really re-name it the “hiding from covid” strategy:

On Monday, Irish GPs delivered the grand total, according to official figures, of 66 vaccinations to the public. On that pace, nine more weeks of lockdown is optimistic. Nine more years would be more accurate.

Vaccinations will increase substantially, of course, over time, because the political pressure to step up the game is building. But even so, it will be well into next year, at the very earliest, before a majority of the population has been given the immunity jabs. So how likely is it, then, that there can be any kind of return to normalcy in 2021?

The only hope, realistically speaking, is that Covid, much like other viruses like the common cold, or influenza, decides to take it easy over the summer when the weather is warmer, and people are outdoors. That’s the common pattern with viruses, and it was, if you recall, the pattern last year, too.

The big question is whether that pattern will apply equally to the new variants of the virus presently in circulation – they’re much more transmissible, remember, which accounts for the fact that even with this level five lockdown, there were almost a thousand new cases yesterday. And that’s without any kind of school opening.

When schools do open, on either a full, or a limited, basis, we can probably expect those numbers to climb again. These more transmissible variants should do very well in schools, and the evidence thus far is that where the original Covid bug was less likely to manifest itself in children, these newer versions don’t really object to teenagers or younger children at all.

But all of that, of course, assumes the basic soundness of the Government’s strategy to begin with. What do we gain, for example, from keeping the construction sector closed? The country desperately needs new homes – indeed, a whole general election was fought based on that need just a year ago. And construction takes place, primarily, outdoors. Is it really a threat to the health of the nation to have people outside, building new homes? But, at the same time, safe to have hundreds of teenagers inside in a school? If the second one is safe enough, the first one must surely also be safe. If the first one is unsafe, the second one must be almost suicidal.

And isn’t that the whole problem? The Government has tended to break everything in lockdown down by sectors, rather than activities. There are lots of activities, for example, that are perfectly safe, but are nonetheless banned unreasonably. Take, for example, a nurse who wants to go to her holiday home in Cork for the month of May. It’s safe enough for her to be in a hospital with elderly patients all day, we’re told, but it’s dangerous for her to isolate herself away from the world on the Beara peninsula, and go for walks on the beach?

If someone like me, a dopey writer, can see these contradictions, then you can be sure that the public see them too. And that undermines their confidence in the Government’s policy.

As, of course, does the fact that it’s not really working.

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