Irish Examiner View: Our cautious steps back to freedom

If at times in the past three months ministers and their medical advisers have given the appearance of making up their Covid -19 plans — with its road map phases — as they go along, it is almost certainly because that is exactly what they have been doing.
Irish Examiner View: Our cautious steps back to freedom

If at times in the past three months ministers and their medical advisers have given the appearance of making up their Covid -19 plans — with its road map phases — as they go along, it is almost certainly because that is exactly what they have been doing. There is no blame or shame in this; contrary to the impression some politicians are tempted to put across, they are merely human, not Delphic oracles. Like the rest of us, they and their epidemiology modellers are up against a virus of which even now little is known for sure other than that it is an unpitying killer and that it remains among us.

The number of confirmed cases worldwide stands at more than 6.5m with almost 400,000 deaths.

But in Ireland, as in the rest of Europe, the bug is being beaten, if not entirely eliminated. The progress achieved here — thanks to the vast majority who have obeyed the unprecedented restrictions on our liberty and followed the guidance — has at long last allowed the Government to move quickly in starting the business of letting people free and, in so doing,resuming step by careful step the country’s business.

In offering the hope that the summer might not be lost — just perhaps in some ways different — the relaxations announced by the Taoiseach will bring welcome relief to the elderly, and especially those with underlying health conditions, who have been in solitary confinement in their own homes. They will now be able to open their doors to small groups of family and friends. On a sadly darker but still welcome note, setting funeral attendance at 25 mourners will restore to something approaching normality the practice of one of the basic rites in our culture.

Lifting some of the curbs on travel, too, will go some way to reviving the way of life we had before, although the new 20km driving from home limit — or anywhere within the driver’s own county — appears to be as arbitrary as the previous 5km maximum, where is the science behind those figures which disproportionately affect rural communities?

There is good news, too, for retailers, and for the tourism and leisure businesses, including art galleries, that can look forward to welcoming customers and visitors at the end of this month. It is to be hoped that consumers — now free to stay local instead of staying at home — choose to shop locally, too, and support the neighbourhood businesses that across the country have suffered. The contribution these enterprises make to their communities cannot ever be surpassed by the online shopping experience.

We are far from out of the woods; schools and universities remain closed, and the consequences for children and undergraduates have yet to be tallied and remedied. Only the most sanguine of travellers would risk booking a foreign holiday. But the edge of the forest is in sight, and day-by-day we will move closer to it if — and that is a crucial if — the guidelines for physical distancing and hand-washing are observed. If they are not, if they are forgotten or willfully ignored by people who are happy to risk not only their own lives but those of others, all that has been achieved will be lost.

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