OPINION: Tentative steps out of lockdown like walking on a rope bridge that might or might not hold

As I see it - a view of life in Donegal through the coronavirus crisis by journalist Siobhán McNamara

Rope bridge

Our path from lockdown is like an untested rope bridge - will it be robust enough?

I can’t help feeling that our tentative steps out of lockdown are being taken on a rope bridge that someone else has made and hoping it will hold.

And the people who made it aren’t sure if they’ve used the right kind of rope, or the best knots for the job, of if the wood beneath our feet is suitably robust. After all, how could they know? There is no instruction manual for this situation.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s announcement that lockdown restrictions are being eased on a phased basis is broadly welcome. Firstly, it shows that our collective efforts through the last seven weeks have achieved what was necessary in breaking the chain of transmission.

“Thanks to you we are making a real difference in the fight against Covid-19,” said An Taoiseach. “The curve has been flattened and it has now plateaued. Thousands of lives have been saved.”

Secondly, it gives hope, and something to work towards. It is particularly welcome for those who have not been able to leave their homes at all. At least now they can get out and about, albeit on condition that they have no contact whatsoever with other people. 

The grand plan carries us through the summer in blocks of three weeks. From as soon as next Tuesday, people can exercise within five kilometres of their home. May 18 will mark the start of the first phase of exiting lockdown with the resumption of outdoor work such as construction. Hardware shops are among the retail outlets that will reopen and some outdoor sport and fitness activities will resume. But most welcome for many people is news that small groups of friends and family can meet outdoors.

The following four phases will bring us up to mid-August and will see a return to certain sporting events, eating out, small gatherings, cinema trips and gym sessions. 

But there are two overriding themes that I see when reading through the government’s document ‘Roadmap For Reopening Society and Business.’ One is that everything right up until the final phase is subject to physical distancing and stringent hygiene being maintained. The other is that at any stage along the way, a spike in cases would bring it all to a halt, and we would retreat into full lockdown. 

Working in three week blocks seems to be a good move. If there is an increase in the rate of transmission as a result of any of the stages, it should show up within three weeks.

It remains up to each and every one of us to take each step slowly and carefully, and to remember that if we run too far ahead, it is not just ourselves who will fall. Our experimental rope bridge will come apart and there will be needless casualties. 

So while this plan to move forward is most welcome, we all still have a responsibility to keep ourselves and each other safe. Complacency is not an option.

Read next: The sound of silence - and learning to embrace stillness in the midst of crisis

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