Paul Hosford: 'The end of Covid? We’ll know it when we see it'

The Taoiseach refrained from naming firm dates for reopening Ireland amid fears of getting our hopes up, only for them to be dashed — but right now, people badly need some hope
Paul Hosford: 'The end of Covid? We’ll know it when we see it'

Taoiseach Micheál Martin addressing the nation on the new Covid-19 roadmap. Picture: Julien Behal

And, so, Ireland has another new strategy to help see us out of the Covid nightmare.

Except this one does not have any dates for when that might happen, short of a review in six weeks, at which point we may see our 5km travel areas expanded or be allowed see some friends outdoors.

It seems our end of Covid will be like our definition of art — we will just know it when we see it. Or, more likely, we will simply see another roadmap in a few months time.

Vaccination target

The plan contains one interesting and concrete target — that 82% of Irish adults will be vaccinated by the end of June, subject to vaccine deliveries. 

Beyond that, an announcement which confirmed that the many kites which have been flown over the last week are still in the air offered little in the way of specifics, as the Taoiseach said to do so would be "disingenuous".

UK envy

It has been rare in the last few years that Irish people look longingly at UK politics and wish to swap places, but seeing Boris Johnson lay out a clear, coherent timeline on how his country will have normal life resumed by the end of the summer will have made many wistful for Albion.

Meanwhile, here, the Government's latest announcement will have people who booked weddings in September nervously glancing at both the calendar and pharma shipping schedules.

The Government will point — and has pointed — to the UK, and said they are miles ahead in their vaccine programme, having started earlier, having one of the main suppliers in their country, and not relying on collective purchasing from the EU to ensure supplies. Which is an entirely fair argument.

However, that does not completely absolve our Government for a lack of ambition, of clarity, and of some semblance of hope. It is asking people to commit to a Sisyphean slog for another nine weeks.

Micheál Martin is right when he says that the virus and its new variants are unpredictable and there is little point getting people's hopes up or risking anticipatory behaviour lessening compliance.

We're all in the same storm...

However, this why we elect a government. To provide leadership in uncertain times, not wait and see together and hope that there will be a vaccine at the end of the tunnel for each of us. We are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat, as the saying goes. However, in that analogy, the Government is in the flagship, with the Taoiseach at the wheel.

A collection of supports and a commitment that, maybe, if all goes well, some people might be able play golf in two months is not the message we needed 12 months into this mess.

This latest announcement smacks of a footballer wanting the game to come to him. Sometimes, that is a perfectly acceptable strategy, sitting in and working out what your opponent is doing, not forcing the play, and not making any rash mistakes.

Taking the initiative

However, sometimes, the game calls to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck by a player exerting their will on events around them. The Taoiseach is a Cork man and a Manchester United fan, so a relevant example should spring to mind.

The Government argues that much of what is happening — variants, vaccine purchases, and viral spread — are out of its hands. Which is fair, but something like mandatory hotel quarantine is in its grasp.

First recommended in May by Nphet, the plan was announced on January 26 specifically to combat the threat of variants from Brazil and South Africa. 

Anticipating the unexpected

Last Friday, Nphet announced three cases of the Brazilian variant while the legislation comes before the Dáil this week with still no answer on which hotels will be used. While it is important to get the legislation right, could no examination of what such a system might look like have been done in the nine months since May?

The Taoiseach stayed largely away from inspirational quotes of seanfhocails, instead sympathising with a "fed-up" populace. He implored us as a country to protect each other and ourselves.

"We will get through this," he said.

We keep saying that we will get there. Now we must ask, where is there?

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