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Why it's not yet time for optimism to trump caution

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Security staff make sure people adhere to social distancing guidelines on Dublin's Henry Street as the next phase of Ireland's Covid-19 lockdown exit begins. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Security staff make sure people adhere to social distancing guidelines on Dublin's Henry Street as the next phase of Ireland's Covid-19 lockdown exit begins. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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Security staff make sure people adhere to social distancing guidelines on Dublin's Henry Street as the next phase of Ireland's Covid-19 lockdown exit begins. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Biochemist and writer Isaac Asimov once lamented: "The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom."

Experience tends to back him up. But over the next few months it is imperative we prove him wrong. Throughout the pandemic the public showed exceptional levels of selflessness and practical common sense.

But as shoppers giddy with excitement returned to main streets, scientists were once more quick to remind us, as far as driving the virus out of the country, we are a long way from mission accomplished.

A letter signed by 1,000 of the country's leading scientists argued we should have held out a little longer. The Government has taken a view we will have to live with some level of Covid-19 until a vaccine to wipe it out is discovered. But the scientists feel we should press on, and eliminate it.

Instead of flattening the curve, we should focus on crushing it, they argue.

Their case is compelling. As Prof Anthony Staines, of Dublin City University, explained: "The path we choose will determine our future for years to come.

"Our current policy is to live with the virus under a long-term mitigation strategy, with the risk of future surges and lockdowns until when, or if, a vaccine becomes available."

Unfortunately, we have come to a place where the cost of keeping the country closed down was also taking a serious toll.

The interim Government must again make arrangements to get the Dáil to rush through further legislation to sanction the spending of further billions.

The Department of Business by next month will reach its spending limit because of the coronavirus blowout. The Departments of Health, and the Taoiseach, will also soon be over budget for the same reason.

Ideally health concerns will trump economic ones; but if people are not working and the economy is shutdown indefinitely, how long can health services continue?

Never before have we had to juggle social, economic, and biological crises simultaneously.

The pandemic presents multidimensional challenges with risks whatever route we take.

As Health Minister Simon Harris said, progress against the virus is, as yet, "fragile".

We can build on advances by continuing to stay local and limit the amount of people we meet, while observing physical distance. In fact, we have no choice. The dangers of second and third waves are real.

The Health Service Executive has recorded how the average number of close contacts for a confirmed case of the virus has risen above five.

The number was below three for the second half of April up to the start of May. It rose above four last week and has now gone above five.

Yes, we have come a very long way, and there are grounds for "cautious optimism" - but the emphasis must very much be on cautious.

Irish Independent