Once again, we are faced with a very simple, if brutal, reality. We have to do everything we can to avoid the slide into another lockdown or any more draconian measures.
It is not a popular thought – but the period of ‘personal responsibility’ is fading away. All signs are that it didn’t really work very effectively – and we have the new case numbers to prove that.
In yet another address to the nation, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed new measures which are a reversal of even the lessened easing of restrictions unveiled almost four weeks ago. Our bars, restaurants and nightclubs must now close at midnight from tomorrow.
People are once again being advised to work from home from this Friday – effectively reversing a Government initiative to slowly get people back to the workplace. Covid passes must now be presented for the limited access allowed to cinemas and theatres – but notably not for barbers, hairdressers or gyms, as had been speculated.
Anyone who is a close contact of a person infected with Covid must from now on restrict their movements for five full days, and take three quick antigen tests during this period. These tests will be provided free and, at long last, the wider use of such antigen testing will be promoted via price subsidies.
The hope is that these small measures, enhanced by a speeded-up booster-vaccination campaign, may reverse the spiralling rise in Covid-19 case numbers. The greater aim is yet again to protect the health services with dire and real warnings that our hospital emergency services are close to breaking point and our intensive care units will soon be overwhelmed.
But let us be frank, this is one right now from the ‘hit and hope department’, and there is a likelihood the Government may have to bring in tougher measures. So far, there is clear anecdotal evidence that appeals from political leaders and health experts over the past fortnight for more scaled-down socialising were heeded by only a minority.
An opinion poll published in one Sunday newspaper at the weekend showed that six out of 10 people were looking forward to a pre-Covid-style Christmas this year, while just under 40pc of people were prepared to settle for a more careful celebration.
The grim reality here is that if a large proportion of those preparing for “a big Christmas” do not moderate their ambitions, then we are all likely to have a very grim festive period.
There may be more hope available from the ambitious statements on rolling out booster vaccines. People aged between 16 and 59 who have underlying medical conditions are to be offered booster doses of the Covid vaccine, as will all residents in long-term healthcare facilities, regardless of age. Everybody aged 50-59 who has completed their primary course of vaccination will be offered a booster jab.
We know the HSE workers, and the heroic volunteers who backed them up, are under huge pressure. We need another push to support them. As the Taoiseach said: Ní neart go cur le chéile. There is no strength without unity.