Covid Restrictions Lifted

David Prendeville

It seemed to happen so suddenly in the end. After nearly two years of varying forms of restrictions, the government and NPHET took everyone by surprise with the announcement that from January 22nd virtually all restrictions were to be lifted and that in the views of the National Public Health Emergency Team, Covid was no longer a public health emergency. Of course, things could change if a new, more dangerous variant were to emerge but, for now, it seems like the pandemic may finally be coming to an end.
I have pondered on these pages previously as to how the government’s reaction to the pandemic will be viewed. It was announced promptly in the aftermath of the lifting of restrictions that a group is being set up to do a report on how the government managed the pandemic. It remains to be seen how Ireland’s response as a whole will be viewed. Ireland had relatively low death rates compared to other countries. However it is also undeniable that memories of the pandemic in this country will be heavily characterised by weak leadership from the government, inconsistencies, poor communication and sometimes a worrying lack of transparency. Ireland also had a much stricter and longer lockdown than nearly every other European country and, if lockdowns are considered a last resort, the pandemic really highlighted the chronic state of Ireland’s health system.
While this shouldn’t be forgotten, and those in government held accountable, now is probably not the right time to dwell on recriminations. There have been false dawns before and I don’t know how often I’ve said in these pieces that we may be seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but one can’t help but feel energised and hopeful at the lifting of these restrictions.
It’s a great moment, in particular, for the arts and hospitality sectors who have been decimated since the beginning of the pandemic. One of the major and little discussed casualties of the pandemic has been the closure of some of the remaining independent cinemas left in rural Ireland. I hope that these sorts of businesses, seemingly left behind by government support, can find some kind of recovery going forward.
In terms of the few remaining restrictions, we’ve heard from Leo Varadkar that there is hope that all measures will be gone by the end of March. Varadkar stated this prior to the announcement of such a major easing and immediate lifting of restrictions in the short-term. In truth, the small restrictions that do remain (mask-wearing on public transport, in retail etc), I think most people would be comfortable retaining for a time to come. The sudden, wholly unexpected announcement on Friday January 21st has really changed the whole outlook of the coming period. When NPHET were scheduled to meet on the 20th, I think the majority of people would have been delighted with even just the 8pm curfew for hospitality and arts venues to be scrapped.
This announcement of wholesale easing of restrictions ushers in an optimism that would have been unthinkable even a few weeks ago. Hopefully it’s a fittingly surreal conclusion to what has been a bizarre two years.