Excitement last night at the Taoiseach's announcement that nearly all Covid-19 restrictions would be lifted was palpable – and the memes were next level. But are we really ready to get back to the pubs and grub or have we forged new habits?
Word is that restaurants were flooded with new bookings last night and those in pubs for the 6pm announcement gave an impromptu toast to their televisions. But the rapid easing of restrictions doesn’t mean this pandemic is over – in fact, far from it.
Yes we’re coming down the other side of an exceptionally high Omicron peak, thankfully with our healthcare system relatively intact – I say relatively because even in normal circumstances, is the HSE ever intact? – but the reality is it is going to take a long longer to bid adieu to Covid-19 and get back to our pre-pandemic behaviours.
For many of us, our lives have completely changed since March 2020. I, like so many others, have moved cities since the start of the pandemic, to Galway, a city I haven’t lived in since my university days. I don’t know what it is to go for a mid-week drink here, or just decide to get a bite to eat at the drop of a hat. It’s just not part of my lived experience here and working out how that might fit into my life, and if I even want it to, is going to take some time.
I probably fall into that nervous Nelly camp, and I know there will be those who view this easing as a release worth celebrating – the city streets tonight will be a good gauge of Irish attitudes. Neither camp is right or wrong, it’s just a question of how long the pandemic era of learned behaviours will take to shake off.
It’s also worth noting that our streetscapes will not be the same either, sadly to the detriment of independent businesses. So many shopfronts, restaurants and pubs now lie dormant, unable to keep their doors open during Ireland’s fairly harsh and fluctuating restrictions.
Inflation too is on the rise, everything from houses to second-hand cars are already costing us more and we are going to have to start paying back the price of all those pandemic payments that kept so many businesses afloat during Covid.
Jobs have been lost never to be revived and while some of us managed to bank a hefty chunk of savings during the pandemic, Ireland’s arts and culture scene was decimated. Considering its a sector at the heart of the nation’s heritage and tourism, building it back will need to be a priority moving forward.
Economically, the balance of power has become a chasm during the last 20 months. The world’s ten richest men doubled their fortunes during the period, while the income for 99% of humanity dropped and 160 million people were forced below the poverty line. The wealth of Irish billionaires increased by €18 billion between March 2020 and November 2021. If we don’t tackle these soaring levels of inequality soon, it won’t be Covid-19 that’ll be killing us. It’ll be the severe and cyclical nature of extreme poverty.
Is it safe?
It’s the question many of us are asking right now. After months, years even, of being told to exercise caution and common sense, it’s understandable to want to be sure it’s a-okay to venture out. And the truth lies somewhere in between “yes” and “no”.
Yes, from a public health perspective, it’s safe to venture out again, our healthcare system has survived, the loss of life was not as extensive as it had been in previous waves and between Ireland’s robust vaccination system to the level of community infection, our immunity has never been higher.
But people did die and will continue to die from Covid-19. While we’re not at risk of mass severe illness, those who were at-risk will continue to be at risk from the virus, namely the elderly and people with pre-existing respiratory illnesses. In order to continue ensuring their survival, we’ll still have to continue to exercise some level of caution.
The pandemic isn’t over
This was the message emphasised by WHO this week, and it’s worth reiterating. While Ireland and many other wealthy countries have made huge inroads in terms of vaccinations, only about half of the world’s population have been vaccinated, and that drops to 10% when looking at the African continent.
In order for us to be safe, everyone has to be safe. Not only will many people continue to die if they don’t get the vaccine – a fact that hasn’t prevented us from allowing AIDS, famine and malaria to ravage many countries despite having the medicine to alleviate and even cure these illnesses – and if the virus is allowed to spread unabated it will continue to mutate, potentially to the point that even our vaccines no longer recognise it.
Which mean our own personal safety is tied to that of the rest of the world. And if you think about it, it’s quite a comforting, karmic thought – Covid-19 has created significant inequality and yet it has reminded us all of our humanity. So help your fellow man by buying local, whether that be a gift, groceries, a round of pints out tonight, or through a program like Unicef’s Get a Vaccine Give a Vaccine. It’s in everyone’s best interests.