Oiling gates of lockdown for a welcome reopening

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The worst of circumstances can often be the crucible for discovering the best of people. The counter balance to the harrowing and sometimes heart-breaking events we have endured over the last 12 months, has been the enduring strength of those who lifted the siege.

Voltaire wrote: “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” And this time it really does. Thanks to those extraordinary combined efforts, this weekend, the hinges of the gates of lockdown are being oiled for a staged reopening.

And, finally, there is solid evidence to believe they may not need be closed again.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan is encouraging people to “get out there and participate in society”.

Not in a careless, cavalier way, but with the degree of automatic caution which Covid-19 has now made part of our every conscious move. It took more than “that Friday feeling” to drive the understandably saturnine HSE boss Paul Reid to declare he’s never felt a stronger moment of “hope and optimism” than he does now. To maintain this positivism we will have to make sure both vaccine logistics and basic pandemic management stay on track throughout the summer.

The great American novelist John Steinbeck wrote: “In human affairs of danger and delicacy successful conclusion is sharply limited by hurry.” The next moves will have to be made with patience, despite the temptation to power ahead.

The toll has affected all aspects of life. Marking the one-year anniversary of the arrival of the virus here in March, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said one million people were on some form of income support from the State – nearly half a million people receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, another 350,000 being supported by the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme.

To limit what he termed the ‘scarring’, or permanent, effects of the pandemic, some €38bn of State money was put in play. There can be no cliff edge for recipients of this money which was key to keeping our society, and economy moving. But the “hibernation” is coming to an end, there cannot be a rude awakening but there will have to be a phasing out of supports. For employers and workers so much has changed. Thankfully the whole of Europe is on the same learning curve.

The potential for a summer boom could bring brighter days. More than 70 million Europeans have also now received at least one dose of the vaccine, equivalent to about one-fifth of the EU’s population.

If consumers are to return to spending they will need to feel confident that the economy will remain stable. We know too well what we’ve come through: and a little about what may lie ahead: What we can never forget, is how much we owe to those who got us here.