IN many areas of business in Waterford this week there is a palpable air of optimism. Retail is settling into its third week since it fully opened to the public, while those in a position to offer outdoor dining are busy preparing for June 7 when punters will finally be able to get their feet under a table and enjoy a meal out.
There will be teething problems – and not everyone is happy that they are being assisted robustly enough, particularly in terms of accessing grants via Waterford Council. Unforeseen hurdles are challenging at the best of times, but after almost four months under lockdown it is understandable that these hurdles would seem unreasonable to businesses struggling to re-find their feet and meet their costs.
For a large number of other businesses the sense of limbo remains. Publicans, musicians, indoor dining restaurants that do not have the facility to offer an outdoor dining option, entertainment venues, and many others must wait until July and beyond before their turn comes. Half a year, on top of a very challenging 2020, is a long time to wait.
‘The smart comment on social media might look cool in the face of those tasked to lead us through this crisis. But populism doesn’t fix a pandemic, and it definitely won’t save your life’
On top of that we have the stubborn Covid-19 figures. Since the cyber attack on the HSE, we have not had county by county and electoral division breakdowns of where the current cases are, but we know that the daily figure continues to remain, on average, above 400 nationally. This is particularly concerning as the new Indian variant has taken a substantial hold in the UK, and is expected to do likewise in Ireland.
But hospitalisation and A&E figures continue to remain low. Is this providing a false sense of security at a crucial juncture in this pandemic?
We know that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) have, behind closed doors to government, expressed concern that a fourth wave of the disease could happen if we don’t continue to abide by guidelines and take our time. The reopening is being rolled out in stages to prevent such a disaster – many businesses fear that another lockdown would be the final straw for their survival.
But it’s also apparent that certain sections of Irish society have already lost patience and are determined to gallop ahead into the summer of 2021. Images from sunny central Dublin at the weekend, showing little in the line of social distancing and mask wearing, and witnessed by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, led him to tweet his shock at what he described as “enormous crowds – like a major open air party”. “This is what we do not need when we have made so much progress,” he said. While he was met with considerable support, the backlash was also substantial, with many taking the opportunity to level blame at NPHET and Government for a myriad of reasons, whether it was emotional outrage or political opportunism.
Well-known media personality, Amanda Brunker, was among those 3,000 plus who commented: “You lost the crowd a long time ago. This nanny state is out of control… You can’t treat adults like naughty toddlers.”
Those with similar influence, critical of Dr Holohan, retweeted his post and were met with further waves of support from an evidently angry public.
How Dr Holohan has “lost the crowd” by speaking truth in terms of a disease that only months ago saw the pages of the Waterford News & Star, and newspapers across the country, fill with stories of death and grief as a result of Covid-19 is not quite clear. But Covid-19 is not as easy a target for blame as the person heading up the country’s public health emergency team.
The reality is that Covid-19, and its multiple mutations, has not gone away. We can be very hopeful that we are on the final straight of this marathon, but we would be foolhardy to think it is guaranteed. Life returned much more quickly to a semblance of normality in Australia and New Zealand because they took a hardline approach… over a year ago. And they continue to do so.
The smart comment on social media might look cool in the face of those tasked to lead us through this crisis. But populism doesn’t fix a pandemic, and it definitely won’t save your life. A vaccine hopefully will, and that’s all we have. It’s worth remembering.
Editorial, first published in June 1st edition of the Waterford News & Star