Elaine Loughlin: Covid-weary public has moved to level five despondency

Elaine Loughlin: Covid-weary public has moved to level five despondency

People wearing face masks pass by people eating at an outside diner in Dublin. Picture: Sarko Lazarov / RollingNews.ie

Have we all just given up before we begin?

There is a real sense that a Covid-weary public has moved to level five despondency and this has only been exacerbated by mixed messages, divergence, and delay from the Government in recent weeks.

When the rules have changed so many times — from level two to level three, to a kind of level three with a bit more tacked on, level four in certain counties, and now level five — it's little surprise some may have decided to throw the rulebook out the window.

But ignoring the regulations will not help us, especially if we want to enjoy some semblance of a normal Christmas.

Tough decisions are not easily reached.

Speaking in the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald acknowledged the latest restrictions were a "hard decision" for the Government to make.

"It is an even harder decision for all those who will inevitably bear the brunt of the hardship it will bring," she added.

Indeed, many who are in Government were, for once, relieved not to have a top job in Cabinet.

"I am very glad that I am not among those who had to make the decision," one junior minister admitted.

"It's very difficult, there was so much pressure from either side; some people arguing we should shut down the country altogether and other lobbies saying it would cost so many jobs."

Indeed, the split in Cabinet did not even break clean along party lines.

Finance minister Paschal Donohoe was among the group, which included Michael McGrath and Eamon Ryan, strongly in favour of not going beyond level four restrictions, arguing that keeping as much of the economy open as possible was essential.

His Fine Gael colleague Leo Varadkar was one of the more vocal advocates for a full implementation of the strictest of measures.

The call for a move to level five was a dramatic turnaround for the Tánaiste.

It contrasted with remarks he had made on television just two weeks prior, in which he claimed Nphet had tried to bounce the Government into lockdown by making level five recommendations that were not fully thought through.

As the varying opinions from the Cabinet subcommittee trickled out on Saturday, the public waited in limbo, not knowing what level they were on or how they would be curtailed in the coming days.

However, the strong view coming from the Government on Sunday was that a halfway house between levels four and five would be found.

So the decision to make the full journey right up to the top level again surprised people on Monday.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin had barely uttered the words "level five" during his address to the nation on Monday night when the WhatsApp groups began to light up.

There were the members of a triathlon club, who throughout March and April had done laps of their front gardens and almost attempted to swim in their baths.

Now, they were almost unanimous in their agreement that flouting the new rules by going for runs outside the 5km limit and training in groups would be more than acceptable this time around.

Then there was the group message sent out by a nail technician to her regular clients informing them that she would be providing a freelance service in people's homes over the next six weeks.

Returning to a lockdown will be hard. The dissent behind the scenes in Government Buildings is reflective of how challenging the new measures will be to enforce, regardless of the extra powers and fines the gardaí will have at their disposal.

But the virus won't give up just because we have. Unlike us, Covid will not become complacent because our Government has changed its mind, and changed it again.

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