It was as if, yesterday, the weather gods colluded with Government spin doctors to show that things could be far more challenging than they already are. Weather alerts about floods exacerbating the difficulties of lockdown businesses did not turn into shop destroying deluges — but, be warned, they may yet. Nevertheless, Taoiseach Micheál Martin outlined the Government’s revised Living with Covid plan, including an extension of level 5 lockdown until April 5.
It might be wise to imagine that plan as a weather alert that may or may not transpire rather than a panacea. However, it would be very foolish not to take it seriously even if it is likely to be tweaked because of ever-changing pandemic realities.
Reopening classrooms is the centerpiece and it is proposed to partially reopen schools on Monday week, March 1, That reopening will accelerate on March 15 and again on April 12. It is sensible that these dates will be reviewed should something interrupt these schedules. It would be more than disappointing if this schedule could not be, or was not, realised.
The decision to extend welfare supports until the end of June is very welcome. Whether those supports will have to be extended again, maybe several times is uncertain. Had they been curtailed as discussions around public sector pay increases intensify then the task of containing the we’re-all-in-this-together pandemic would have been made more difficult.
If the warning yesterday from UCC’s Gerry Killeen that relying too heavily on vaccinations might backfire is prescient then it would be reckless to name an end date for those vital supports. He was commenting on research from Brazil, which found that natural immunity did not prevent the spread of a new variant called P1. Batten down the hatches — again — indeed.
The government appears to have learned its lesson on over-promising following the Christmas giveaway and is now giving little away on the dates society will reopen. When Boris Johnson did, UK holiday bookings to Spain, Turkey, and Greece jumped six-fold overnight. That will give rise to further questions on international arrivals to these shores. This administration has enjoyed almost unprecedented support in its pandemic efforts, so yesterday’s announcement should be seen as turning a page, as the moment when prevarication ends and Government finds the gumption to block international arrivals from pandemic hotspots.