Just when we thought it was safe to go out again



Back in October, inflation in countries sharing the euro rose, almost unnoticed, to 4.1% from 3.4% a month earlier. Unnoticed, because most of us had our eyes on making sure Christmas would be so much better than the miserable one the first pandemic year.

And it was a good one — for me, quite memorable, despite the niggling at the back of my brain that I sure was paying so much more for the tank full of home-heating kerosene. And I sure was not alone with that particular niggling.

Just when we thought it was safe to go out again, along comes the triple whammy.

First, the dogged coronavirus blew back into town, a new variant that may not be as deadly but is much more infectious. As I write, globally the number of cases have rocketed. The four-day shenanigans that was St Patrick’s weekend didn’t do us any favours, nor does that fact the take-up on vaccines for children has been low. The experts are concerned that the over-70s are once again vulnerable as, too, are our many care homes where the rogue is rampant.

Although scientists won’t say it, it seems that as a nation we have thrown the face-mask in with the towel and put paid to almost all the measures that were showing some light at the end of the tunnel. If I had a euro for every time I have heard someone say the past two months, “I’m sick to the teeth of this Covid”, I’d be a wealthy man. But I wouldn’t judge them.

Our health workers — those angels among us — are again under pressure with so many out sick and the treatment of other patients with other illnesses once more on the long finger. There are some 900,000 such patients on waiting lists of more than a year.

Our health service has been under pressure for many years, due, in part, to lack of joined-up thinking among those who run the show and the lack of proper remuneration — Paul Reid aside — to fill many vacancies in the HSE and its affiliates. Cue, the fact that children in Ireland have been medically prescribed antidepressants on more than 30,000 occasions in the past 10 years, according to new figures. In just under one-third of these cases — 8,998 — the children were aged 11 and under, according to the data released the other week under the Freedom of Information Act.

Our health service is further fragmenting and it is frightening. And the enduring stress and anxiety caused by the triple whammy will see growing mental health issues for many for decades. A silent pandemic.

Whammy No. 2 arrived overnight when Vladimir Putin attempted to invade Ukraine, shouting down the NATO alliance, and declaring war not just on defiant Ukrainian forces but on civilian men, women and children when his plan did not go according to plan.

And we watch this horror on the myriad ‘breaking news’ outlets. It has upped the ante on our fears factor, sparking anxious debates and conversations about the potential for a chemical war or nuclear one.

The war in Ukraine is right on our doorstep and my money is on it being a protracted affair. It also raises huge questions about Ireland’s neutrality and the future picture for the Western alliance and the EU.

It has sparked a refugee crisis, the scale of which has not been seen in Europe since WW11. We are expecting 40,000 souls by end of April, 10,000 already here, and a mooted 100,000 in the final analysis.

All this, despite our generosity of spirit, putting a further burden on an economy in crisis, in our health service, the housing fiasco and now the soaring cost of living. The final whammy.

Price rises rises are expected to peak at around 8.5% this summer, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). Inflation has not been at that level here since 1984. Wages and Government supports are unlikely to keep pace with average inflation of 6.7% for the year. This means disposable income could fall by around 2%, the ESRI warned in its quarterly forecast.

The war on Ukraine will put further strain on oil and gas, cereal, cooking oil, fertiliser and metals exports from Russia and Ukraine. This will see further price hikes in home heating, transport, electronic goods, building materials and basic foods such as bread and pasta. We may even see rationing.

This ‘new normal’ ain’t going away anytime soon…

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