Another potential Covid setback demands caution

Many of us have been ardently looking forward to Friday, October 22 – eight days away – and the hoped-for lifting of the bulk of the Covid-19 restrictions we have lived with since March last year. However, some of us were also fretful that this long-awaited day was conditional on the pandemic response continuing to move in a positive direction.

ow the Taoiseach has told us – as other government leaders and medical experts had previously cautioned – he cannot guarantee this signal phase of re-opening will proceed as planned tomorrow week. Micheál Martin’s comments came as the Department of Health announced 2,066 new coronavirus cases.

Mr Martin stressed that a final decision will not be made until early next week. We know the expert committee, Nphet, is slated to meet on Monday to consider what advice it will offer the Government on the next move.

But the Taoiseach did say that a presentation yesterday by the deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, was “serious”. Mr Martin said the trajectory of the disease had taken a wrong turn, with a sudden increase in case numbers.

The experience of two previous reopenings, in summer last year and again last Christmas, offers food for some serious thought here. The big difference this time, many of us understood, was that eight out of 10 adults in the country were double-vaccinated against Covid-19.

So it was reassuring to hear Mr Martin say the Government wants to see more data and that it would reflect on the situation before deciding what will happen on October 22. The Taoiseach also reflected that it was important to undo the creeping national feeling that this dreaded virus, which has so seriously curtailed every aspect of our lives, has gone away.

It is some time since we heard the public reflection that this virus is utterly no respecter of our national weariness, or any other heartfelt feelings. It is a phenomenon that will flourish and take its victims as and when it can.

Thus Mr Martin again urged us “to knuckle down, refocus on this virus, because it hasn’t gone away”. The proposed big phase of reopening would have lifted the majority of restrictions, including requirements for physical distancing and mask wearing outdoors and in private indoor settings.

The focus of concern for the Government and its advisers came from a meeting of the Senior Officials Group on Covid-19. The unanswered question now is whether the latest figures on the virus are a blip or a trend.

Concerns at this meeting were about the rise in Covid-19 positivity rates, testing and tracing and the number of patients in hospital and in intensive care. The high incidence of people in the ICUs who are unvaccinated is a matter of dismay to many people who diligently sought their vaccinations and complied with all public health advices.

But for now, all we can do is await further advice from the experts and allow this to inform the next move for a Covid-weary nation.

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