“Human nature is weak,” wrote Somerset Maugham once, “you must not ask too much of it.”
That phrase that kept coming back to me this weekend reading that Ireland has just lifted almost all of its Covid restrictions.
The Irish newspapers picked up on the euphoric mood: "A new beginning" blared the Irish Independent. "Emergency over," quoted The Irish Times. "It’s time to be ourselves again," wrote The Irish Examiner, and "It’s Super Saturday," crowed The Irish Daily Mail.
‘A new beginning’
‘It’s time to be ourselves again’
‘It’s Super Saturday’
How newspapers in the Republic are reporting the lifting of almost all covid restrictions from today. pic.twitter.com/2cveuSrZn2— Darran Marshall (@DarranMarshall) January 22, 2022
On Friday night, Taoiseach Micheál Martin appeared on Irish TV looking relieved and unusually elated. For once in this ghastly era, he was sharing some good news with an Irish public desperate to hear some.
“Spring is coming,” he said. “I don't know if I've ever looked forward to one as much as I'm looking forward to this one...”
Was he bowing to pressure from the hospitality and leisure sector? Yes. Was he fearful of a restive public who has had it with deep restrictions, sudden closures, and full lockdowns? Yes.
Was he reminding us that public servants of all parties sometimes put political expediency ahead of good sense when the national mood is growing mutinous? Oh, for sure.
Spring is coming.
We need to see each other again,
we need to see each other smile,
we need to sing again. pic.twitter.com/149ZHQLfJx— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) January 21, 2022
As so often in Ireland, what you make of this depends on where you stand. If you're a publican or a club or restaurant or hotel or guest house owner, you'll likely cheer. Watching your bottom line flat line for two years, what choice would you have?
The trouble is, the pandemic isn't over. These “beginning of the end” headlines hew much closer to Neville Chamberlain than the eventual Victory in Europe Day. In fact, seen from this far across the water, it looks like a national outbreak of magical thinking.
A lot of euphoria in Ireland about the lifting of restrictions which is understandable, but with regard to COVID, to paraphrase a prominent Irish politician, it hasn't gone away you know.#COVID19 #COVID19ireland— Eugene Ward (@eugeneward1978) January 22, 2022
Maybe I have lived here in the United States too long. Maybe living in a global epicenter of the pandemic – where the crisis became a daily horror film in 2020 - has simply jaundiced my outlook. Maybe it's my concern about what will happen to the immunocompromised and immunosuppressed.
Or maybe it's the fact that 15,017 people have died of Covid in the U.S. in just the past week. In Ireland however, with the blessing of the country's chief medical officer, the nation is lifting all the following restrictions:
No limits on household gatherings; No 8pm closing time for hospitality and events; No capacity restrictions on indoor and outdoor events; Covid passes will no longer be needed for hospitality and indoor activities.
“We Irish are more social than most,” the Taoiseach said in his address on Friday, and that is unarguable. In Ireland the smallest divisible number is always two, not one.
But the human need for company is what this pandemic cruelly depends upon. Seeing so many unmasked revelers filling into Irish pubs like it was Christmas Eve this weekend makes me sad for what will inevitably follow.
We won't get out of this crisis through wishful thinking. We won't get out of this crisis by deciding en masse that we have simply had enough. We get out of this crisis by being smart and taking care of each other – or we get stuck with it.
Yes, more than 90% of adults in the Irish Republic have now been vaccinated, but no, that isn't a magic bullet that brings transmission and infections to a halt. On Sunday, Ireland's Department of Health reported an additional 8,126 new cases of Covid in Ireland. 845 people were in hospital with the virus and 79 of them were in intensive care. That is very far from out of the woods.
Look, no one wants to be the Craic Killer. Weariness of “too long a sacrifice” is probably why the immediate pushback from exhausted health care professionals and epidemiologists is going overlooked. As France introduced more covid restrictions at the weekend, Ireland threw caution to the wind.
But what a sobering message it sends if those in power have finally calculated that the economy and the national mood may be more important than the continuing threat to life.
Anyone else kinda scared now that most of the rules are gone?— Fionn Mc Cool (@UrNoFionn) January 22, 2022