Today, the capital wakes up to tighter restrictions after the Cabinet acted on public health advice to move Dublin — described last week as “a substantial reservoir of disease” by acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn — to level three of the Government’s Covid plan with its attendant limits on indoor dining, travel and public gatherings.
It is safe to say that nobody wanted to see this happening, not least the Restaurants Association of Ireland CEO Adrian Cummins, who said yesterday that its members were “shocked” that restaurants, so recently back to a kind of normal, would again have to close or partially close for the next three weeks.
He has warned of chaos, economic collapse, and the loss of 50,000 jobs in the hospitality sector. “Currently, controlled and regulated environments like restaurants are not the problem — households are,” he has argued.
Many have angrily articulated the same point, asking why restaurants and pubs have been forced to close when so few outbreaks have been associated with those environments.
Yesterday, Professor Philip Nolan, the chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team's Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said the question was reasonable but it misread and misinterpreted the data. Cases often classed as household outbreaks originated in social settings such as bars and restaurants, which international evidence has shown drive community transmission, he said.
Now, more than ever, it is vital that we let science shape our reaction to a pandemic rather than listen to the plethora of armchair experts that have sprung up to voice their opinions on various platforms. Would you prefer to be guided by a person with years of training and experience or those who rush to post pithy witticisms on social media?
That is not to deny the harshness of the measures that took effect from midnight and the impact they will have on people’s social and economic lives. Taoiseach Micheál Martin acknowledged that “havoc and hardship” and announced aid packages for business and the arts.
He was clear and focused as he explained that the capital was in a very dangerous place, at risk from a virus that could kill or leave many sick or disabled for months. Tightening restrictions was an infuriating, frustrating and exhausting measure, he said, but one informed by medical expertise.
The three-party Coalition has been beset by accusations of mixed messaging and lack of cohesion but with little recognition of the near-impossible task of balancing conflicting priorities, ie safeguarding public health and keeping the economy open.
Last night, though, the Government came down firmly on the side of public health and its message was crystal clear: There is a very real threat that Dublin will return to what the Taoiseach described as "the darkest days" of this crisis unless all of us take action.
While the exact details of that action are likely to change over time as the country negotiates its way through the pandemic, it is disingenuous to suggest — as some have — that we have not been told how to minimise the risk of contracting coronavirus. We have been advised, again and again, to wear a mask, cut down on social interactions, practise cough etiquette, and wash our hands. What could be clearer than that?