Threat of COVID-19 second wave remains as Government prepares to announce stimulus package

Listening to Dr Ronan Glynn, who is the acting Chief Medical Officer, last week, he said “We are living in precarious times.” And indeed we are.

First of all, there is the overriding, constant threat of a renewal of coronavirus. We have seen that in the figures which came out last week of new confirmed cases, and they were rising each night.

We hear every day of all the places in the world that have been opened up and now gradually, one by one, they have had to close again because they have been visited by the pandemic on a second or third occasion.

I feel we are on the edges of that, and only the constant vigilance and health advice which we are getting has enabled us to just steer clear of the next disaster. It is so important that we obey the dictums they issue. As we all know, masks are now obligatory in shops or any indoor gatherings. Now that is easy enough to overcome, but there is constant awareness of the virus and when it might next strike us in a pandemic way.

The next precarious issue, in this precarious time, is Brexit. We do not know quite yet what is to be the outcome of the latest talks, but we are again living on the edge, so to speak, of the wrong decisions which we know Britain will take, and we will be particularly prone to the ills which that will bring us.

But the most important precarious situation is, of course, the reopening of the primary and secondary schools. The Department of Education, the Minister, the teachers’ unions, the parents’ groups, etc, have all had their say, and I am convinced that all are doing their best. But of course as we all know, in this time of uncertainty “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/ Gang aft agley” (Robert Burns, ‘To A Mouse’ ).

The plans can be made, the money provided, every danger provided for, and yet at the last minute, if we get an onslaught of coronavirus again, in one minute the schools may be forced to close. It is a terrible situation, particularly I believe in Sweden where they were open and then had to suddenly close.

If that wasn’t all bad enough, then of course there is the world of politics. Yes, we have a government, and we’re glad to have a government, and life is proceeding. But for people in Fianna Fáil, it has been a very difficult situation. With Micheál new to the role of Taoiseach, just when it appeared that things were going all right, we had the political upheaval within Fianna Fáil and the world of uncertainty which recent events have brought.

As I compile this piece, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin has been four days bargaining in Brussels with all the other heads of state, trying to work out the amount of money which Brussels will give to the countries which have been affected by coronavirus. The big question is: how much of that will be in straightforward grants, and then how much in loans?

A division has opened up between the ‘Frugal Four’ – Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden – and joined latterly by Finland, and the other countries who are joined in wanting to get the deal done, and who wants to spend more time than is necessary in Brussels?

So above are all the bad things that are happening. There is, of course, some good news to report as well. We have had a few very sunny, warm days, both last week and it looks like again this week. Now that is good, because I had thought summer was over and that we’d had our good weather back in April/ May. But it seems we can look forward to a little bit more of summertime.

Not that we are planning to go anywhere. For the last four years since her Mam died, my niece Anita Lenihan and I have been used to going for a few days every year to a nice hotel in different parts of Ireland, and having what we thought was a pleasant time looking at the scenery, visiting the beaches, having nice meals out, etc. But this year Anita is wary of going anywhere, and do you know, I share that sense of wariness too. So we said we’d wait until September – so often you can have good weather in September – and if we both felt a bit braver about the world, or if the health situation looked a bit better, we might venture around Ireland to somewhere new.

This week, we will have the stimulus package which the Government is putting forward to enable worthwhile industries to get going again and to give employment, in the hope that by so doing we can wake the country up. Now as I’m writing this, we await the news of the actual full stimulus package, so I will be able to talk about it in detail in my column next week. I am sure it will have an energising effect and, of course, will cost a huge amount of money: hence the efforts by Micheál in Brussels to get us a good share of the amount which Europe has to dispense.

The GAA has opened up again, but in a small way, and with a huge amount of stipulations to be obeyed. Sometimes you wonder will it ever, ever end – will life ever go back to the way it was?

Of course, the only real light at the end of the tunnel will be when all of the various scientific and research groups come together with the fruit of their studies, which will be a successful vaccine. I keep hearing partial news that one has been discovered between Oxford University and a university in the US, but so far everything we hear is just tentative, hopeful but cautious.

Meanwhile, back to politics. Leo Varadkar is adjusting really well to being Tánaiste and is still making his views heard and felt. Micheál Martin, despite his political troubles, is asserting himself well as Taoiseach on the Irish and European stage. Eamon Ryan is facing his leadership challenge, and hopefully he will come through and continue his role as leader of the Green Party. We wouldn’t want any more political missteps or mishaps: we have to have a period of tackling into the huge economic and medical challenges which we face, and the people expect the government in charge to be resolute in their dealings with the various political and economic events which lie before us.

That’s my lot for this week. Hope to talk with you all next week, when we will have overcome, I hope, many of the precarious difficulties which afflict us right now.

In the meantime, go safely, and stay home as much as you can.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke

 

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