As Ireland embarks on the uncertain path of lifting coronavirus restrictions, the competing requirements of saving lives and rescuing the economy comes into sharper focus: move too quickly and more lives will be lost, move too slowly and even further damage will be inflicted on the economy, which may have longer-term impacts on the general health, well-being and life expectancy outcomes for the public.
At one level, the wisdom of Job is required, but at another, common sense must prevail. While it is important that the public fully co-operates with whatever restrictions are in place at any given time, it has also become more critical than ever that the authorities make the right calls at the right time for the right reasons.
A report in this newspaper today, published by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, which describes the country's extended lockdown as "conservative" and "unclear", is troubling, not least because it suggests the plan to lift restrictions will leave many businesses permanently closed, but also warns of the "grave" economic impact of Covid-19 which threatens the State's attractiveness to foreign investors, thereby putting at risk the entire economic model upon which the country has become so reliant.
Speculatively, a similar report probably also exists within the Department of Health advising the Government to stick to its conservative plan to minimise further loss of life. The Government has described its plan to lift restrictions as a "live" document, meaning measures could be hastened or further slowed, depending on its success or otherwise. The longer the coronavirus crisis lasts, however, the more imperative it will be that the views of the business community are listened to and acted upon, not least because a tipping point may be reached where the conservative approach to date will become counterproductive.
The call in today's published report for greater clarity for business will resonate, however. For example, a big question facing many companies that currently have staff working from home is what benefit it will be to have them coming back to the office. Strict requirements are to be put in place. One proposal would require such companies to monitor the temperatures of employees before, during and after work - or risk financial penalties. That would have major cost implications and employers will ask themselves whether it is too much trouble. That said, fears expressed by the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris, that people will descend in great numbers to hardware stores and garden centres, which are among the first businesses to reopen, are valid. While the deterrent of immediate closure by the Health and Safety Authority, which will have inspectors on sites, will concentrate the minds of business owners, good judgement must also be exercised in this regard: by all means penalise flagrant disregard, but responsibility must rest, first and foremost, with members of the public.
Ireland's business community has suffered most seriously in this crisis and every opportunity must now be given to allow them begin to trade their way out of difficulty. Some will succeed, others will fail, but all reasonable support must be given, otherwise the dire warnings of the Business Department report may come to pass, and that is in nobody's interests. In short, while it is necessary to be cautious, it is also time to act with greater haste should the opportunity arise.