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Whether we face tougher curbs depends on how much we respect these rules

John Downing


 

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Tougher rules in Italy came from poor public trust between the State and people. Photo: REUTERS

Tougher rules in Italy came from poor public trust between the State and people. Photo: REUTERS

REUTERS

Tougher rules in Italy came from poor public trust between the State and people. Photo: REUTERS

So, strictly speaking this is not a lockdown. But - on the day after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics became Tokyo 2021 - we are very much headed in that very direction.

True, we can still go to the shops, get out and take a bit of exercise, and go to medical or dental appointments - assuming it is still possible to get such appointments.

Unlike the UK, we can gather as non-family groups of four rather than two, as obtains on that other island.

If necessary, we can also travel to our workplace, provided it is essential to be there. But people are urged, wherever possible, to work from home.

All non-essential retail will now close with, in the main, just supermarkets and pharmacies staying open. Restaurants and cafés are now just takeaway and delivery only. Gone are theatres, gyms, bingo halls, libraries and hairdressers. So, too, are all playgrounds and caravan parks. All sport is cancelled, bidding adieu to 'behind-closed-doors' racing, and hotels only open for essential services.

Many of us will feel there was a certain inevitability to all of this. The fine weather at the weekend brought tens of thousands of people to beaches, parks and hills, understandably seeking fresh air, sunlight and a break from the growing and all-pervasive coronavirus anxiety.

The vast majority taking to the great outdoors respected the guidelines on social distancing. But sadly some people did not and that intensified many people's anxiety that we were headed for a greater spread of the virus, looking nervously at the experience of Italy, Spain and France.

The little bit of calibrated freedom which stays, essentially the ability to get out for a walk, run, cycle or drive, offers a vital help to maintain sanity. Over time it could become even more important to avoid a more long-term epidemic of mental health problems.

Schools remaining closed until at least April 19 tells us this problem will linger. Whether or not there is another turn of the screw, with further curtailments of our freedom, now depends on all of us.

An Garda Síochána, augmented in some cases by park rangers, will have the power to enforce the new rules on curbing social gatherings and maintaining the vital social distancing.

But it was reassuring to hear the Taoiseach emphasise consent and the voluntary goodwill of the people to ensure these rules are respected.

The Government's audacious and generous moves to protect people's incomes for the foreseeable future at least must also come into play here.

The authorities' generosity of response - which of course we will all pay for later - has to be considered by anyone contemplating these new rules.

Tougher and more rigorously policed rules in Italy, Spain and France were caused in large part by a lack of trust between the authorities and the people.

This was evidenced by runaway figures in rising instances of the coronavirus.

If Irish people do not behave wisely, we are likely to all face more severe rules, like those experienced on mainland Europe.

But, given that Ireland is a small country with a largely cohesive population, the odds are that we can be more optimistic about avoiding even more draconian measures.

The number of test centres in Ireland is increasing and planning to avoid the health service becoming totally over-run is encouraging.

The challenge for Irish people is to match this endeavour with a popular demonstration we can self-police our public behaviour.

Irish Independent