Opinion: it may be hard to persuade an exhausted and sceptical public with little trust in government to follow public health directives

The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on Ireland politically, economically and socially. It poses a threat to our population, both in terms of a risk to human life and the social conflicts and societal divisions that can be attributed to this contagion. The pandemic has fuelled national friction and caused tension, anxiety and uncertainty for us all. Unpredictability, new social norms and less control and power over our own lives have resulted in higher anxiety levels as we face the prospect of social and economic sacrifice without any guarantee of a better future.

When major political decisions are made which have serious consequences for how we live our lives, we expect to be communicated about them directly and in an informed and timely manner. In the case of moving through the Covid hierarchy of levels, the general public was left waiting days for the big decision to be announced.

The waiting, uncertaintity and hints of what is to come or not come, all of which we have absolutely no control over, unquestionably leads to increased anxiousness, frustration and annoyance. These decisions could destroy livelihoods, crucify mental and emotional health and cause damage to already fragile relationships.

From RTÉ News, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announces details of Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions

The government have demonstrated their lack of communication creativity because they have managed to drive a wedge between themselves and the public rather than bringing us closer together. It seems to be acceptable to let the public wait and be drip-fed titbits of information via media leaks. The social cohesion bandwagon of 'we are all in this together’ from the first lockdown has ran argound in the quicksand.

It will be hard to persuade an exhausted population with little trust in government or political leaders to follow public health directives. People are sceptical of what the government is asking. This stems from misinformation, poor communication, contradictory advice, recurrent political tensions and point scoring between government parties, coupled with the public undermining of NPHET.

The crisis has also created a larger opening for extremism. Unscrupulous people have exploited the pandemic already to advance their objectives in ways that exacerbate national crises by linking racial discrimination and anti-immigration issues with anti-Covid sentiment without recourse. The implications of social isolation a by-product of the pandemic, is especially concerning for those caught in the midst of domestic conflicts.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Claire Byrne, a discussion on Covid ethics with Professor Linda Hogan

Under the strain of this crisis, social divisions are widening. Covid-19's impact on our society will be felt disproportionately by people across generational, gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, disability, mental health, addiction and social divisions. With rising levels of inequalities and inequities comes increased social conflict, which is fracturing our nation's flimsy attempt at diversity.

What is cetain is that no one wants Covid-19 knocking on their front door

Lliving daily life with a limited understanding of what will happen to our society in the vast unknown of the future is mentally complex. Knowing our past has become a shaky premise as a basis for predicting our future. We need to become socially responsible, live in the now and anchor ourselves within a moral, fair and cohesively strong society.

In short, there is a need for solidarity, social cohesion and hope. We need a new course of action where we develop a society where every individual has a responsibility to act in a manner that is beneficial to society and not solely to the individual. But the battle to achieve this thus far appears to be an uphill struggle.

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From RTÉ Six One News, the Cabinet have agreed a series of fines and penalties for breaches of new Covid-19 regulations and restrictions

It is not yet clear when and where the virus will hit hardest in the next few weeks. What is cetain is that no one wants Covid-19 knocking on their front door. If we are to survive this journey, we need to batten down the hatches and perhaps acknowledge that the decision to move to level 5 could save lives and could give us another year or two on this earth with a loved one.

National solidarity is the response we now need. If we can find our way back to the basics of humanity and find an inherent good in each individual, then perhaps we can collectively build a new normal, based on the principles of social justice, solidarity and equality. By healing the divides of our society and working together, it is possible to hope that the next six weeks could create opportunities to build bridges that will carry us all into a better world.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ