As the initial reaction to Thursday’s announcement by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, in Washington, turns from well- anticipated surprise — even if that is an oxymoron — to something more considered, more sober, there is almost a sense of relief that our phoney war with coronavirus is over.
We are now following the blueprint of countries that have contained the outbreak or at least appear to have confined it.
We have reached a point that has seemed inevitable for some time — it was always a case of when these restrictions might be introduced, rather than if. The near universal acceptance of the very challenging limitations, even if they are voluntary, suggests the kind of understanding that will help build the resilience and optimism, and stamina, too, needed to limit the threat presented by the frighteningly fast spread of the virus.
That spread is so surging, so indifferent to borders, that it is almost pointless to quote figures, as they are so quickly out of date.
However, one underlines how very few options were available to the Government this week. On the day restrictions were announced, the number of Irish cases jumped by 63% — a growth rate that must set all alarm bells ringing even more loudly.
Yet, there are glaring inconsistencies. Responding to the Cheltenham Racing Festival’s defence of its decision to go ahead, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said if it had been planned for Ireland, it would not have been held.
“Our position is supported by the WHO and the ECDC and our own public health workers,” he said.
Just as Mr Coveney made that assertion, the first cruise ship of the season reached Cork, bringing hundreds of tourists and crew. The Port of Cork said all relevant checks were conducted, before MV Saga Sapphire passengers boarded coaches to tour the city and its hinterland.
Even with the best will in the world, and even with a full understanding of how this pandemic will impact on business, it is unreasonable to expect people, especially young, working families, to follow lockdown recommendations while busloads of tourists career around the country.
That some of these cruise ships may have visited British ports, where there is almost a cavalier attitude to the pandemic, strengthens that argument. In these extraordinary times, business must, like the rest of us, accept that things have changed and that it will be some time before anything like normal service can resume.
Public health doctors have warned that restrictions may be necessary for months to come, so the usual welcome extended to visitors here must, regrettably, be put on hold.
The pandemic has already shown how very little wriggle room we have in public services.
The HSE is in talks with hotels to secure beds; institutionalised overcrowding on public transport is seen as a petri dish for the virus, and more than 320 student gardaí are to take to the streets to “maximise” the response to the outbreak.
By exposing these glaring vulnerabilities, the silver lining in the pandemic’s cloud has been highlighted. We cannot say how, or when, coronavirus will pass, but it has shown that we need, one way or another, to find a way to quickly strengthen public services.