Anyone who started a get-your-life-back campaign to lose weight in post-Christmas January knows the drill. First we sign up to a tortuous diet — is there another kind? Then, the more enthusiastic join a gym. For the first few weeks, gyms are crowded and you may have to queue for one torture wheel or another. By Valentine’s Day the queues are shorter. By St Patrick’s Day crowds are so thinned that those still committed to their programme might enjoy the experience, especially if they have lost weight. Those who have not endured their new Spartan regime have returned to the couch and, festering with self-loathing, have reacquainted themselves with those old enemies — a biscuit or five with the cup of tea.
In terms of the pandemic we are in the second week in January, certainly no further. Real progress, even as a relaxation of restrictions is under discussion, is still in the future. We have had a taste of what it takes, or will take, to navigate this crisis but like a nascent gym bunny more naturally a couch potato, we face decisions with long, possibly life-defining consequences. We may not all make, or accept, the right ones. Some of us are already kicking the traces. The zeal that made self-isolation almost a form of virtue signalling has faded and the restrictions, like an early morning gym session in March, are exacting a toll on individuals’ composure and happiness. But then, that’s what a crisis does. Always.
The indications are apparent. Streets seem more crowded and Transport Infrastructure Ireland say car journeys increased by up to 18% on some roads during April. In shops consumers are not as circumspect about personal space as they were a month ago. Discontent is becoming accusation. It is possible that trend of a return to what was before may accelerate over the coming bank holiday weekend. That premature optimism might sow the seeds of real catastrophe — and we cannot say we have not been warned. Those warnings are international and domestic.
When the 2020 Olympics was deferred it seemed a foolproof option. However, in the absence of a vaccine hosting an Olympics next year is in doubt. Last week, a specialist in infectious diseases said he thought it “unlikely” Tokyo could host the Games next year. That view was endorsed by the Japan Medical Association which says it will be “difficult” without a vaccine. Locally, Dr Chris Luke warned that he was not “even sure if we’re at the end of the beginning... We’re at a particularly perilous moment because we’re beginning to drop our guard.” Covid was a shapeshifter virus, he said. “we don’t understand it yet so we must remain vigilant and flexible”.
History vindicates that caution. The first wave of Spanish Flu, a century ago killed a couple of million people but in its second wave took tens of millions. Do we face a second wave? Who can be certain but who would bet against one? Difficult as isolation and loneliness are they pale compared to possible alternatives. These are unnerving times and economic chaos adds to those concerns. Despite all that, despite a longing for more carrot and less stick, it’s still early January, it’s still far too early to give up on a prize well worth the race — a return to a world without plague and full, once again, of possibility.