Varadkar: It might be spring before the pandemic is over

Poor old Ireland:

At this stage, you are probably sick in the head reading me write about it, but it needs to be restated again and again: In most of the western world, the pandemic is over already. You need the evidence? Here is my good friend Declan Ganley, enjoying a traditional Irish trad session, in a bar in Maryland, USA. Play the video, to get a sense of how different things are there:

Maryland is not, by the way, some sort of crazy Republican Trumpist state, which is the usual excuse deployed to dismiss the situations in Florida and Texas. If anything, it is the opposite: A rock-solidly liberal, left leaning, well-educated place. They’re indoors, playing music and singing and not wearing masks, and generally being back to normal. Our lads, by contrast, are saying that it might be next spring, and we might need to vaccinate teenagers to do it.

Saying “the pandemic is over”, by the way, does not make you a covid denier. Yes, the Delta variant is at large. Yes, cases are rising in Ireland. The point is this: The threat from the pandemic is over.

The danger of covid 19 was never, at any stage, cases. It was always that the illness would be so severe as to require mass hospitalisations, and that a surge in people needing a hospital would overwhelm the health system, leading to thousands of preventable deaths. Let us be very, very, very clear: That threat has passed, and it passed a long time ago.

This current Delta strain of covid is indeed very transmissible. It may, indeed, kill some elderly and vulnerable people who are not vaccinated or who lack natural immunity. But it is no more a threat to society than the winter flu is. That is borne out in country after country where it is more advanced and more entrenched than it is in Ireland.

The problem, very simply, is the way that the public’s psychology has been warped. We have been so shell-shocked by “case numbers”, so taught to fear “a rise in cases”, so bombarded, daily, with the anti-covid message that we have come to equate the virus with the grim reaper himself. We are at the stage now were many of us, apparently, view the virus as a malevolent and ingenious actor, capable of escaping and evading any defences we erect against it, attacking us with new variants, and acting almost as a conscious entity.

There is nothing, of course, that those of us who see through all of this can do about it. Family members of my own, to my consternation, advocate continued caution. Some friends worry we are opening pubs too soon. The attitude, when informed about other countries, is that those countries are taking a big risk, and only Ireland is being sufficiently cautious. It is an attitude that pervades Government – but make no mistake, it is also an attitude that pervades society.

Which makes you wonder, really, whether opening up will ever be an option. After all, when the public believes en masse that the restrictions are the only thing stopping Covid from killing thousands of us, the restrictions themselves will always be self-fulfilling. If there is no wave this winter, killing thousands, it will be because the restrictions saved us. The argument will always be that lifting the restrictions risks disaster. It is another example of something that has been rampant throughout the pandemic – the unfalsifiable claim. Those of us who oppose the restrictions can never prove to our friends that they are unnecessary, because our friends simply say that low numbers in hospitals and mortuaries are thanks to the restrictions.

This has long stopped being about science, and has instead been adopted as a form of national religious observance. It even has heretics. Those who would maintain restrictions through the winter can, and will, always accuse those who disagree with them of being reckless with other people’s lives. They justify their own position as one of responsible caution. “No harm in being careful”, and so on.

The problem is that there is harm in being careful. Harm to children whose education has been interrupted. Harm to businesses. Harm to mental health. Harm to physical health, too, because of the interruption to medical services and checks and tests.

Ireland has created a disaster for itself, and claimed that disaster as a form of national identity. All those of us who notice that can do is watch, and warn, and sigh.

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