9 January 2021 No Comments by The Northern Standard


When life in Ireland and across the globe began to be significantly impacted by the coronavirus in march of last year, people accepted the growing sacrifices and curtailments of movement and freedom with the then realistic shared hope that the public health emergency would be a relatively transient thing. It became a common conversational prediction that by Christmas the crisis, or at least the worst of it, would be over, and the pressures that Covid-19 exerted on physical and, increasingly, mental wellbeing were borne with the reasonable conviction that, this time next year, things would be back to normal again.

At some point in the Covid-19 year of 2020, that conviction began to be replaced by the mounting realisation that things would never be quite the same again, that Covid had wrought some changes to the way we interacted and transacted that were likely here to stay, in terms of mass gatherings and working practices and the conduct and delivery of retail and service business. But, in coming to terms with this adaptation, most of us probably never suspected that we would enter 2021 with the shadow of the Coronavirus looming over our lives more balefully than ever.

If the ways of the world in 2020 were in many respects unprecedented, our entry into the New Year has been like no other we can recall. The traditional spirit of optimism and excitement that January 1 usually ushers in has been replaced by an intensification of the widespread sense of fear and uncertainty that the virus brings in its wake – at a time when Covid-19 fatigue has become pronounced, we have been asked to endure the most severe lockdown measures imposed so far as case numbers rise to frightening levels.

It can be hard to perceive the light of the New Year dawn through the mists of doom and gloom created by the pervasiveness of the virus in media content and public discourse. But we are at a moment surely illustrative of the meaning the English theologian Thomas Fuller tried to encapsulate when he first committed to print the phrase, ‘The darkest hour is just before the dawn’.

The commencement of the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines in this country and others offers strong hope that this will be as dark as things get in our battle against the virus. While the widespread availability of the vaccine to the general population is still some months away, measures currently being considered to accelerate the pace at which it is delivered should, if successful implemented, mean that, by the end of the first half of the year, vaccination will have started to make the sort of significant impact that will allow the pattern of intermittent lockdown to be broken and see the beginning, at least on a phased basis, of permanency in the restoration of freedoms.

As much as this will be of enormous relief on a human level, it will surely offer a life-saving transfusion for the Irish economy. The restoration of economic lifeblood may well come too late for some businesses and many jobs and it will be an inevitable if unpalatable component of the post Covid-19 reality that the functioning of many spheres of Irish commence and enterprise will be conducted along a leaner model of design in the future.

Massive spending by the Government has endeavoured as far as possible to pillow the punch delivered by the pandemic to economic activity and household finances. Some pain will be inevitable when the supports and subsidies start to be withdrawn but it would seem a reasonable forecast to make that, when the threat of periodic lockdown is finally banished, sufficient consumer confidence will be restored to stimulate the economy into a process of gradual recovery as the second half of the year matures. When this happens, we should expect features of the economy to operate in a very different way than before.

Shifts in working patterns and practices that were beginning to manifest prior to the pandemic will now be embedded – the definition of what constitutes the workplace has been indelibly redefined. The personal engagement elements of business and commerce will be different, too – online meetings and online shopping will have accelerated in their usage from novelty to normality. And how will we be as people, in ourselves and with each other, when the dawn eventually succeeds the current darkest hours? It will take time for us to congregate and socialise in the same way again and for us to regain the easy comfort we have accustomed ourselves to in travelling abroad.

A period may also pass before we welcome the visitor to our shores as readily as before. But these will only be passing things. If Covid-19 has formed a crucible around our humanity, what makes us good and decent as human beings has only been forged stronger in the fearsome heat of the virus’s furnace. Our communities have abounded with selfless acts of support and solidarity over the past months.

Whether as healthcare workers or other frontline heroes, or as good neighbours and constant friends, we have shown courage, innovation and resilience in the face of exceptional adversity, and have more than fulfilled the wish of then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when he said on the occasion of the introduction of the first Coronavirus measures in March: “In future let them say: when things were at their worst, we were at our best.”

We are on the hardest part of the climb now, the one that takes us to the summit. If we don’t waver, if we keep showing the best of ourselves in the face of the worst, it won’t be long until we see the New Year dawn through the darkest hours that have heralded the birth of 2021.

Comments are closed.