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An age of uncertainty

As this editorial is being written, the rising number of Covid-19 cases, along with associated hospitalisations and ICU admissions, have made the dark days of mid-autumn even darker. The plan had been that 22 October would see the full reopening of society after more than a year and a half of restrictions.

While the Government has agreed that the remaining aspects of the hospitality, entertainment, and night-time economy sector can reopen, this can only be done with the full range of protective measures in place and the wide and robust implementation of the EU Digital Covid Certificate.

The protective measures include a continuation of the social distancing and mask-wearing to which we have all grown so accustomed. Return to workplaces will continue on a “phased and cautious” basis for specific business requirements.
Sector-specific guidance and protocols, including for work, hospitality, cultural and sporting events, will be “reviewed and strengthened where appropriate”.

Will these measures and the continuing roll-out of the vaccination programme be sufficient to curb the current surge of the virus? Perhaps not. In recent correspondence with the Government, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said the national public health emergency team could not rule out the reintroduction of restrictions in the future.

Dr Holohan stated what has become increasingly obvious – the trajectory of the disease has proved difficult to predict with any certainty. Speaking about the Government’s revised plans on 19 October, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar admitted the country is not currently “where we hoped to be or expected to be” regarding the pandemic. The Tánaiste said when the reopening strategy was announced in August, it was expected that, by 22 October, 90 per cent of people over the age of 60 would be fully vaccinated and the surge of the Delta variant would have peaked.

However, while the vaccination target has been achieved, the Delta surge has continued. The rising number of cases
has called into question whether stronger action is required. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), for instance, has demanded the reintroduction of Covid-19 testing and contact tracing in primary schools. The INTO also
called for a pilot for antigen testing in schools and a review of restricting mask-wearing to children aged 13 and over.

It can be argued that the success of the vaccination programme has caused the powers-that-be to rush the roll-back of measures that were so important at the beginning of the pandemic. The desire to return to ‘business as usual’ is more than understandable. But the extremely contagious nature of the Delta variant, combined with the relaxing of
restrictions, has caused the surge in cases we are now experiencing.

Nobody wants another lockdown. But although vaccines have provided a great source of hope, they cannot be relied upon, in the short-term at least, as the only solution to a crisis that looks very far from being over.

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