Opinion: Give us a goal to aim for, and hope, Micheál

The public are starting to feel despair at the constant lockdowns, while messaging from the government has become shambolic, says SARAH O’DWYER
Opinion: Give us a goal to aim for, and hope, Micheál

People have had enough. Picture: Stock

THIS isn’t ‘living with Covid’. This isn’t living at all.

We are facing into another couple of months of “significant” lockdown restrictions, after a year of pretty much the same. Yet, we can’t opt for a zero Covid approach because, according to Taoiseach Micheál Martin, it would mean “a permanent lockdown”.

So, what are we in now?

I have been on board from the beginning, but it has come to the point now where I, and many others, cannot face another year of the same.

And, I’m lucky. I have a job. I’m aware of how lucky that makes me right now. I can only imagine what lockdown is like for people who don’t, or for those who are potentially going to lose their livelihoods.

I am also lucky to have the tools to manage the tough lockdown days. I do worry for people who don’t have that.

I’m lucky too because I don’t have under-lying health issues (that I know of) but some family and friends do. 

Across the board we are all now of a similar mindset. We’ve had enough.

But the fact of the matter is, we shouldn’t have to be working this hard to stay sane. We’re all adults here. We can take bad news when it’s communicated clearly. The problem at the moment is that clear communication is non-existent when it comes to Covid.

I’ll start back when the 5-level ‘living with Covid’ plan was introduced. Why was it introduced? Every time new announcements were made levels were changed and mixed together. Clear? Yeah, as mud.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin arriving at Government Buildings. Picture Sasko Lazarov / RollingNews.ie
Taoiseach Micheál Martin arriving at Government Buildings. Picture Sasko Lazarov / RollingNews.ie

Then you have the battle for air time. Micheál Martin says one thing. Leo Varadkar says another. Stephen Donnelly doesn’t seem to know what he’s saying half of the time. And the other ministers seem to find out what’s going on two hours later on Twitter.

You also have these rolling lockdowns, which are for “prolonged suppression”, not zero Covid. I asked the Taoiseach if he was confident last week when he visited Cork City Hall’s vaccination centre that not adopting a zero Covid strategy was the right call.

“We need to think through that,” he told me, “I mean, people talk about going in and going out — that’s what — like zero Covid is what?”

“It’s what New Zealand have right now,” I replied.

“It’s a permanent lockdown. And as soon as a country like Ireland comes out of it, you’re back open to the potential of the disease coming back in again because of our geography,” Mr Martin said.

“We’re going for prolonged suppression of the virus now. We have vaccines now which, I think, will help to give us choices in time.

“The public health advice we’ve received has always been to the effect that zero Covid is a promise you could give that you might never fulfil.

“We are not New Zealand in geography terms. But, that said, let’s look at it from a different perspective. We have at different times been suppressing the virus.

“Mutations are arriving. We have a very strict regime now in terms of people coming into the country compared to what we would ordinarily have.

“And we’re making it more strict...” he added citing the introduction of new countries to the mandatory quarantine list.

Now, let’s break that down. Zero Covid, according to the Taoiseach, means a permanent lockdown. We have been confined to 5km since Christmas. We will be likely confined to 5km until May at least. Seems like semi-permanent lockdown to me? Especially with the likelihood that it can be tightened at any time.

What have New Zealand? Music festivals. Huge outdoor barbecues. What have we? The same bloody walk in the park, or down the road we have been doing for the last few months.

I know of people who have gone abroad on holidays. They shouldn’t have and last year I would have been mad about it. But now, I almost feel jealous that they had the nerve to go. That’s not the right attitude to have, I’m aware, but it’s the one many are leaning towards now.

I also know of people who have been flying home to Ireland to visit family from another country fairly regularly since lockdown began last year, and they haven’t quarantined once. Was I mad originally? Absolutely, I was horrified. Now? I really don’t care.

I can almost guarantee the vast majority of the Irish population would bunker down for two more months if we knew we would come out the other side knowing we could go back to normality, even if it meant not being allowed to leave the country without two weeks of hotel quarantine on the way back in.

Roll out mandatory hotel quarantine like Australia did, and ensure cases coming into the country are caught. As an admitted non-expert, it seems like pretty basic stuff really, especially when we’ve seen it work elsewhere.

I know there’s a border with Northern Ireland on the island, but negotiating something to protect the lives of all their citizens doesn’t seem like some far-fetched stupid idea. I understand the history, but it’d be beneficial to everyone on the island. A little effort here could really be worth it.

When it gets to this point, where people who have taken Covid seriously and have, for the most part, stuck rigidly to the restrictions, are now saying “To hell with this”, then there’s going to be a big problem.

Telling us vaccines are on the way means nothing at the moment when many of us know we won’t be vaccinated for months, at the earliest if we’re lucky. And, those who are being vaccinated now still can’t go back to norma life until the rest of us can.

Even as I write this, I got another notification saying reopening hospitality won’t even be considered until midsummer. That is a hell of a lot longer away than May. And, if I found out via push notification, I’m sure publicans, restauranteurs and hoteliers have found out the same way. Shambolic.

Children are presenting to doctors with anxiety symptoms, teenagers have missed out on rites of passage like debs, people starting college haven’t gotten to have that experience properly, those living alone have become isolated, domestic violence issues have become more pronounced, elderly people and those with underlying conditions have effectively been imprisoned in their homes, and we’re told that this is the best that can be done because we’ve suppressed the virus “at different times”?

We need a goal. We need an out. As human beings we need to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The government seems to have lost the will of the public. The “we’re all in this together” message is no longer relevant, because it certainly feels as though we’re not. As for holding firm? We’ve been doing that for a year now, and most of us are tired and have had more than enough.

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