We again find ourselves at a crossroads in our long fight with Covid-19.
After three months of living under level 5 restrictions - our third lockdown of this pandemic - people are understandably fed up and many of them are angry and frustrated. Thousands have not seen a day's work in a year. Many have not seen family or friends in months and small businesses are either closing or struggling to survive. It is fair to say that people have made huge sacrifices to suppress the virus following the dangerous position we found ourselves in after Christmas. However, infection rates remain very high. NPHET has warned that we are in a very "volatile and precarious" position. People are now anxious about the possibility of a fourth wave. They are worried about the prospect of a lost summer after months of slogging it out with this virus.
We are now approaching 5 April, the date the public had hoped would bring some relief from restrictions, yet people are still waiting to hear the Government's plan as to what lies ahead. Instead of clear communication and strong leadership, what we have had throughout the crisis is mixed messages and kite-flying. To say that people are at the end of their tether is in many cases an understatement. They have seen the Government fail to do what needs to be done to get ahead of the virus, to pave a pathway for a safe reopening of society. That has left many in disbelief. I refer specifically to a stuttering vaccine roll-out, a failure to adequately ramp up testing and tracing and the carte blanche that has been given to meat factories, for example, with devastating consequences.
However, I think it is the refusal to deal with international travel that stands at the top of the list. The lack of common sense in Government policy is mesmerising. The situation is that people cannot go 5 km from their home, but they have to watch as up to 10,000 people a week arrive here from abroad, many on non-essential trips, including holidays. As early as last May, public health officials were urging the Government to implement a full and proper form of mandatory quarantine. These calls were ignored and that has left us exposed. In the meantime, thousands travelled here from other countries. Ten months later, the Government has introduced a scheme that does not go far enough. The list of 33 countries is far too limited and, in any event, only two of those countries have direct flights into Ireland. We have a half-baked plan that leaves us vulnerable to importation of the virus and to further dangerous variants, the threat from which was keenly highlighted in NPHET's most recent letter to the Government last week. We need a system of real mandatory quarantine for all non-essential arrivals from all countries. That is the only approach that will get the job done. It will send a message to international travellers that now is not the time to come here.