Covid-19: Amidst uncertainty and fear, a blame game’s breaking out

Our 'togetherness' during the pandemic has started to crack, so says John Dolan in his weekly column
Covid-19: Amidst uncertainty and fear, a blame game’s breaking out

A Concerned citizens of Ireland protest on Grafton street. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Together, together, together everyone

Together, together, come on let’s have some fun

Together, we’re there for each other every time

Together, together, come on let’s do this right…

We’re All In This Together, High School Musical

AH well, it was good while it lasted...

A sense of togetherness had enveloped the vast majority of people in this country since the Covid pandemic began 20 months ago.

It was a shared unity that helped us cope with the lockdowns, the loss of life, the strain on our health service, the stress on our economy.

It was a togetherness that reached its peak earlier this year, when vast swathes of the country took one in the arm for the team and got vaccinated, taking the first step of our fightback against the virus, and a reopening of society.

But the unity was there right from the start, when then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivered his famous St Patrick’s Day address, and declared: “We cannot stop this virus, but working together we can slow it in its tracks and push it back.”

That same call for unity was on hand a few weeks later, when he launched a social media campaign entitled #InThisTogether, urging us to stay connected, active and mentally well as the pandemic showed no sign of ending.

We worked together, and we stayed together, in spirit if not in body, and it helped us to cope.

Last Christmas put a strain on that bond, when the festive season many of us had hoped for failed to materialise. There were outliers on both sides as a new lockdown was implemented: some felt the Government had acted too slowly and cost many lives, others were growing weary of the lockdowns.

But, crucially, the centre held. The majority of us sucked it up, realising there was no option.

The arrival of vaccines spurred a new sense of togetherness, and our society gradually reopened after one of the strictest and longest lockdowns in the world.

Togetherness had worked. Ireland and its people were in harmony, like that High School Musical song. Or so we thought.

But in the past few days, the unity of the nation in this fight against Covid has begun to visibly weaken. 

Cracks are appearing, the centre looks like it will not hold any longer, and I fear there are worrying times ahead.

People are concerned, anxious and fearful - either of the damage the virus can do, or of the damage another lockdown will do. The middle ground is crumbling, sides are being taken, battles for hearts and minds are breaking out. We are no longer in this together.

As the first restrictions are re-imposed, we are being forced to ask ourselves a slew of uncomfortable questions: Do I favour a full lockdown? Should my kids go to school? Is it fair to effectively ostracise people who haven’t had the jab from society?

Woe betide anyone who offers an opinion on social media, as the fury and righteousness is palpable.

The human psyche can cope with many things, but uncertainty can put it under terrible strain. And that is where we are now.

Will cases continue to rise? Or will they fall? Will we have a meaningful Christmas? Or will we be lonely this Christmas? Will another strain replace the Delta one, and if so, will it be milder or, heaven forbid, more severe?

Who can tell? Not Dr Tony Holohan. Not Micheál Martin. Not some of the finest scientists and medical experts in the land, and on the planet. And certainly not Daft Dave on Facebook.

This uncertainty is causing a fracture in our togetherness.

When Taoiseach Micheál Martin, fearful of unbearable pressure being exerted on our hospitals as a wave of cases continues, announced a tightening of restrictions on Tuesday, for the first time I got a sense we were not all in this together any more.

A few, on the one hand, want even tighter restrictions on our movements, and to isolate and punish people who are refusing to have a vaccination, blaming them for the fact Covid is running riot once again.

That small but vociferous cohort, 7% of the population, who do not want the jab, are feeling picked on and that their civil liberties are under threat.

But worst of all, those of us in the middle, those who got jabbed and put up with the lockdowns, and who have been the glue to the nation’s unity throughout this ordeal, are losing heart and hope.

Will we ever defeat this dangerous, unpredictable, volatile, shape-shifting virus in our midst? And can we recapture that sense of unity that saw us all through the pandemic until recent days?

******

I think the best way of unifying us is to be honest and up front, and that includes the experts, the scientists, and the politicians. We must all first accept that there is something very odd and concerning about the present situation. Ireland is among the most vaccinated countries in the world, and vaccines are meant to reduce your chances of being infected, and reduce the severity of symptoms if you do catch the virus. So why do we have one of the world’s highest rates of positive cases?

The only answer is that this new virus has still not been properly figured out by the greatest minds on the planet.

That doesn’t mean the vaccines aren’t working, they clearly are, the unvaccinated stand a much greater chance of being seriously ill and dying than those who took the jab. That much is obvious.

But does Ireland’s plight mean immunity is wearing off faster than we thought? Does it mean one type of vaccine is performing worse than another? These are the kinds of conversations NPHET and our politicians need to have with each other and with us, they should not be left to the ignorant battlegrounds of social media.

Ireland is far more accepting of mask-wearing and social distancing in public places than the UK, and has the Covid certificate system too, yet our case numbers are higher than theirs! Why?

While experts and politicians grapple with these questions, sides are being taken and the split in our togetherness is deepening.

This week, we heard about developments on both sides of the vaccine debate in other countries that may cause further cracks in our unity. Employers in Latvia are now allowed to dismiss workers who refuse a vaccine, while Austria has introduced a lockdown for the unvaccinated only. Many here support such actions, almost as a punishment for those who have not had the jab.

Micheál Martin ruled out such a move, but he did say he would look “with interest” at Austria’s strategy. But that isn’t us; that isn’t who we are, surely?

What a disheartening week. A week where our togetherness felt, for the first time, fractured. Where do we go from here?

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more