At each stage of the state’s response to the Covid-19 emergency, it has had to face, broadly speaking, two types of problems: those it can control and those it cannot. Even though his management of the former – in areas such as testing, hospital capacity or, more recently, vaccination – has improved, he has always been vulnerable to the latter.
Of those outside forces that the government is largely powerless to influence, two will largely shape the summer. The first is the behavior of the virus, in particular the Delta variant. How it spreads, what impact it has and how it interacts with vaccines are now the key questions in the current phase of the pandemic. The second is the changing reaction from Ireland’s neighbors, Britain in particular.
Under these two headings, the signs are not good. Delta is moving rapidly across the country. It is more transmissible, apparently more dangerous and more resistant to vaccines. A new Israeli study has found that the effectiveness of Pfizer’s vaccine – the one the state relies on the most – against infections and symptomatic illnesses has fallen to 64% since early June, a period in which Delta has shrunk. propagated. Its effectiveness against hospital admissions and serious illness remained higher, at 93%.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s misguided lifting of most basic public health checks, including the wearing of masks, from July 19 will inevitably lead to an increase in infections in Britain – with a predictable ripple effect to across the Irish Sea.
Mitigating the fallout from these two external forces and ensuring that social and economic life can continue safely at the same time is now the main task of government. It has several levers, including the vaccination campaign and the test-and-trace system, which will be used more and more in the coming weeks. It also needs to respond quickly to new scientific evidence on issues such as vaccine mixing and vaccine administration for 12-16 year olds. Several European countries are already doing both of these things, which could make a big difference in helping to suppress infections.
This reflects a larger point. In parts of the Covid response, like the rollout of the vaccine itself, the state’s response has been coordinated, responsive, and generally transparent. In others, such as the provision of advice from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (Niac) and the relationship between the government and the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), the momentum has been slower and longer. opaque.
In the coming phase, while the response may need to change from week to week, or even day to day in order to strike the right balance between infection control and individual freedoms, the agility and responsiveness of the state will be put to the test.