COMMENT: Government Must Grasp Current Opportunity To Avoid Even More Lockdowns

As we get used to life under Level 5, this week Gavin looks past the current lockdown and argues that we need to see action now so that we don’t end up in this position again.

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“2020 has been a hard year, and we’re not through it yet.”

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Those were some of the words of An Taoiseach Micheál Martin when announcing Level 5 restrictions on Monday night. The announcement, I felt, had an air of inevitability about it, and not just because it had been well flagged for the preceding two days. For some time now, it feels like we have been careering in only one direction, and failing to suppress the virus.

I’ve been highlighting the local situation on my own social media channels. The graphs of recent weeks make for grim reading, but they have thankfully started to improve, even if now is not the time for complacency. Nationally, one cannot be as hopeful – at least, based on the information we have to hand – so in truth the government probably had to act. But as Micheál Martin spoke hopefully about the Christmas we hopefully will be able to enjoy, I feel that there was one big area that he did not address.

What happens after Christmas? What happens in 2021, before the hoped-for vaccine is rolled out, and while we are still living with the vaccine? Are we destined to career on a rollercoaster-like journey up and down the different levels of restriction for at least part of next year, and maybe longer? It appears so, as Micheál Martin told the Dáil on Tuesday that there will be “periods of higher level restrictions, followed by lower level restrictions and, if necessary, followed by higher level restrictions again”. This week has been hard enough without thinking that we’ll have to go through it again and again.

If Ireland cannot learn to live with COVID-19, then the fault will lie with its government, more than its people.  The vast majority have made immeasurable sacrifices already.  “Some have not” done what was asked of them so far, as the Taoiseach stated, and that’s not good enough, but the rest of us have been patient, and considerate, in doing what’s asked of us.  But that can only go so far.  Many will admit privately that they won’t comply with the full letter of the law in this period of lockdown, so what hope is there of that changing in a third or a fourth period of lockdown?

The people of Ireland deserve more from our government. I don’t expect any State to be able to manage the virus completely – that’s impossible.  But what is being done NOW, in this window of opportunity, to avoid the another lockdown? There is €4bn additional funding for health from the budget, but where is it being spent? There are additional beds at UHL, but what the further 96-bed block that is needed there? Is it being expedited?

I’m not a scientist. I’m not a medical expert. Like you, terms such as epidemiology and R-rates meant very little to me back in the innocent days of February and before. But I am a citizen. I want my government to be straight with me, to tell me what to expect, and most importantly to tell me what they are doing, on our behalf, to cope at this time.

The entire strategy is dependent on the delivery and rolling out of a vaccine for COVID-19. Good progress is being made, it seems, on this front, but what if vaccines aren’t effective? What if take-up rates are lower than needed, even amongst vulnerable people, thus giving the virus a continued chance to circulate in our society? Are we still going to be on this dreaded COVID-coaster or will we have actually grasped this issue, and delivered a sustainable solution for the good of our country? We may have been challenged now to do the right thing, and I hope that most people will knuckle down for the next six weeks, but I think we all need to see evidence that our government is doing the same, so that we’re not in this hell-hole for a long time to come.