IT’S hard not to feel a very strong sense of déjà vu this time of year, when we look back on our attempts to have what the Taoiseach called ‘a meaningful Christmas’, last December.
Indeed, in light of what happened in our hospitals and nursing homes in January, that phrase has probably been banned from the government’s lexicon this year.
But, lest we feel we are in the midst of a never-ending Groundhog Day, it’s worth remembering that this time last year we had a lot more restrictions in the run-up to the holidays.
We were rejoicing at being able to move beyond our own counties 12 months ago, but yet we could only mix with two other households.
Shops selling non-essential goods were closed under Level 5 restrictions until December 1st and ‘wet pubs’ were still closed.
And tickets for Christmas mass were the ‘hottest tickets in town’, the Star noted.
So this year, while we are not quite ‘back to normal’, we still have a lot to be thankful for.
Pubs are open, albeit under curfew, and all retail businesses are back in operation, albeit complying with Covid guidelines.
The only fear now is, are we doing enough?
Last year we didn’t have such a massive surge in people returning home from abroad, as we were still very much in the ‘gently does it’ phase of reopening international travel. We also didn’t have as many options to socialise available to us, as we do this year.
But the one difference between Christmas 2020 and Christmas 2021 was that we didn’t yet have the dreaded ‘Omicron’.
We are now hearing that the new strain of Covid-19 is several times more transmissible than either the original or Delta strains. A ‘wave’ of cases is sweeping across Europe, we are told.
Of course, we also didn’t have the mass vaccination programme in operation at Christmas 2020. That is giving us a huge shield against the tsunami of cases coming towards us.
The queues at vaccination stations around the country were somewhat reassuring but the surge in the demand for the booster shots in the past week is also a little bit worrying.
The HSE website states that it takes one to two weeks for a booster to kick in. If that is the case, then those being vaccinated this week and last will probably not receive much booster protection in time for Christmas Day.
That message is not really being hammered home by the public health officials. Many people seem to think they are ‘good to go’ once they get the third jab! We can only hope that the next few weeks don’t bring the numbers of cases which Nphet has seen in the modelling of ‘worst case scenarios’.
No doubt the 8pm curfew brought in this week will go some way in reducing the numbers out socialising late at night, and might help to stagger the amount of people on the streets, using public transport and mixing, at any one time.
And while Tánaiste Leo Varadkar warned this week of a major increase in cases likely in any event, he also said he does not expect that to transfer to similarly high numbers of hospital admissions.
This Christmas will be the real test of the vaccination programme. It is pretty much a ‘given’, now, that case numbers will rise. How many of those cases will find their way to ICU departments remains to be seen.
And there is still a lot we can do to make sure they don’t.
Mask-wearing in any kind of busy setting, continuing to observe hygiene protocols, and limiting those in our close social circle will all combine to help us get through another winter.
It is unlikely Christmas 2022 will be a Covid-free Christmas, either. But at least with every year we are making progress, albeit slowly.
Perhaps we should approach this year’s holidays with the same attitude – steady as we go.