THIS week’s return to school for the remainder of our students represented the ‘beginning of the end’ of the pandemic for many.
Coping with the new phenomenon of ‘working from home’ as well as balancing home-schooling has been a very tricky act for many.
And that’s even before you throw in the added pressures faced by many families living in areas served by poor broadband.
Although schools in themselves are not believed to be significant contributors to the spread of the virus, what concerns the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) most, is the associated extra movement of people in the community as a result.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that the full reopening of schools means that approximately one million people are ‘on the move’ around the country every weekday.
And that causes headaches for Nphet.
It means more people nipping into shops, stopping for fuel, (possibly) sharing cars, and more people meeting at the school gates.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said recently that activity outside of schools, like ‘playdates’, was a cause of concern. The public has already been urged in the past not to delay when dropping off children at schools, and not to engage in chat with other parents at the school gates.
It is not the attendance at schools in itself which worries our medics, it seems, but the associated interaction.
The school bus system, too, is another concern, but has been reduced to 50% capacity, as opposed to the 25% allowed on other public bus services.
There is no doubt that more movement of people around the school reopenings will undoubtedly lead to a general increase in mobility. At other times during the pandemic, the return to school has also seen an increase in the numbers returning to the workplace. Our teachers, school principals, secretaries, caretakers and other administration staff are all now back at work.
And some parents who were unable to work due to childcare issues, will be able to fulfil their work responsibilities now too – whether at home, or in the office.
And, with the extension of the travel limit to county boundaries, our roads will also look a little busier too, this week.
New data from the ESRI, which measures social activity, has shown that the number of people visiting another home or garden, or receiving visitors to their home or garden, has doubled since the end of January, so we know that people are tiring of restrictions. But Nphet has pointed out that we must all stay vigilant for another while longer.
And despite recent setbacks with certain vaccines, the future is still looking a lot brighter than before. The psychologically important landmark figure of one million vaccinations – combining first and second doses – was passed last week. Once a nasty variant doesn’t come along to put a halt to our gallop, and we can get beyond the current cautious stalling of certain brands, we can hopefully see a return to a slightly more ‘normal’ life by the autumn, if not a little sooner.