THAT the country has to remain in a continued state of lockdown under Level 5 restrictions for a further five weeks beyond January 31st came as no surprise, and indeed had a certain inevitability about it, given the stubborn rate of decline of new Covid-19 case numbers – still just under 2,000 daily this past week. Furthermore, with the contact tracing system having been unable to cope with following up the huge volume of cases this past month, it is likely that the number of new cases in the community is much higher than has been reported.
There is no doubt that new strains of the coronavirus – especially the British one – have made it more transmissible and the vast majority of people are more fearful of it. Of course, there are Covid-deniers, refusing to wear masks and practise social distancing, but they are very much a small minority now after an eleven-month period that has seen over 190,000 reported cases in the Republic of Ireland and more than 3,000 related deaths.
The number of deaths from Covid-19 this January alone – 839 up to Tuesday 26th and with five more days left in the month – is frightening and we must not forget those who are have had the disease, but whose long-term health has been adversely affected. Many people are suffering legacy issues and, in a lot of cases, it is not known how long these will last and if they will every go away.
Most of the deaths have been in the older age groups, but the disease has not discriminated and there is a significant cohort of younger people – many of whom were in the prime of their health – who also succumbed to the deadly virus. During the earlier lockdowns, knowing somebody who either contracted the disease or died from it was relatively rare, but this is no longer the case as it has become more widespread and prevalent across every community in the country.
It certainly has concentrated people’s minds and made the vast majority of us more conscious and more wary of picking up the virus, which is a lot more transmissible than heretofore. Because people now know and fear that it can be contracted so easily, and unconsciously, despite their best efforts, many are even afraid to go out and are, sensibly, planning to sit out this lockdown at home.
In fact, the vast majority of people have welcomed this week’s announcement of the extension of the Level 5 restrictions at least until March 5th in the twin hopes that the virus can be suppressed to manageable levels and the roll-out of the various vaccines can gather greater pace. The continuation of the restrictions – which could be extended further again in a month’s time – has made life very difficult for the owners and employees of businesses that have been forced to shut, but all of them would far prefer to make the necessary sacrifices in one big tranche in the hope that the current lockdown, however long it lasts, would be the final one, as the stop/start nature of the previous shut-downs were detrimental.
People have seen the dire consequences of the clamour to have a Christmas when the government succumbed to huge public pressure to lift the Level 5 restrictions on December 1st at a time when not enough progress had been made on suppressing the Covid-19 virus. That may be water under the bridge now, but it has made people more conscious during the current lockdown of being more patient about when will be the right time to start lifting restrictions.
Apart from the economic damage the restrictions are causing, they are also taking quite a toll on people’s mental health and Family Resource Centres have reported that they have been responding to a significant increase in demand for mental health services during the lockdowns to date. There have also been reports of alcohol abuse and an increase in the incidence of domestic violence, so ideally we need to get out of lockdown as soon as possible, but that can only be when the time is right to do so and it will probably have to be a rather gradual process.
In the meantime, with a number of new variants of Covid-19 in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, the government needs to do more to do more to limit incoming travellers from abroad and liaise with the Northern Ireland Executive to make joint inroads on suppressing the virus.