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Most Irish people don't expect a 'return to normality' until 2021

Seven in 10 people think we’ll have some form of social distancing in place until at least June 2021.

Jason Berry from Nutgrove wearing a face mask in the Capuchin Friary on Church Street in Dublin in April.
Jason Berry from Nutgrove wearing a face mask in the Capuchin Friary on Church Street in Dublin in April.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

MOST IRISH PEOPLE don’t expect life to return to ‘normal’ until next year, according to a new survey examining the public’s views on the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s widely anticipated that we will see Phase One being implemented from next Monday. 

Over seven in 10 participants believe normality, and life without some form of social distancing, won’t resume until June 2021 or later, linking this to the availability of a vaccine.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has surveyed 800 people, a representative sample of adults across Ireland, about the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

The proportion of people who believe that life will have returned to normal before the end of 2020 is relatively low at 28%.

Screenshot 2020-05-14 at 14.06.31 Source: ESRI

The ESRI report notes: “In the continued absence of a treatment or vaccine, the long-term implications of the ongoing need to control infection have apparently sunk in with the public, most of whom anticipate a protracted period in which behaviours will be subject to guidance determined by the prevalence of the virus.”

Dr Cameron Belton of the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit said the study “reveals further evidence of Ireland’s ability to pull together at a time of crisis”.

“In the face of this disease, the large majority of people have absorbed the need to proceed slowly and carefully. They are willing to make sacrifices now for a better outcome in the long-run,” Belton stated.

Preferences for easing restrictions

Participants took part in the ESRI survey before the government’s roadmap for reopening society and businesses was published.

At the start of the month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a five-step plan – which can be read in full here – for lifting the restrictions. 

Under the plan, each phase will last three weeks. The document outlines how each phase impacts different sectors, what will be allowed at each phase, and under what conditions. 

However, the beginning of each phase will be kept under constant review and there is a chance that restrictions that have previously been lifted could be re-imposed. 

Under phase one, which is due to begin on Monday, some non-essential retailers will re-open and outdoor work will resume.

When asked about their preference on which restrictions should be eased first, more than one-quarter of participants in the survey opted for allowing interaction with people from other households.

Under phase one, people will still be advised to stay home most of the time and should continue to avoid unnecessary journeys and non-essential social visiting.

However, up to four people who are not living in the same household will be allowed to meet outdoors while maintaining strict social distancing from next week – if all goes to plan.

There was widespread agreement that reopening workplaces and shops should also be done relatively swiftly, with more than three-quarters of participants ranking these as one of the first four restrictions that should be lifted.

While permitting longer travel distances had the second highest number of first-place rankings, it also had a relatively high proportion of last-place rankings.

Screenshot 2020-05-14 at 13.53.32 Source: ESRI

Overall, the findings highlighted a preference for easing restrictions with functional benefits, since the three restrictions associated with leisure activities scored substantially lower.

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A large majority, 71%, ranked one of these three as the least urgent restriction to ease.

All phases of the government’s roadmap on easing restrictions are subject to review, based on public health data.

The ESRI’s report notes that, if it proves possible to meet the timetable outlined in the roadmap, this would amount to “a substantially more rapid lifting of restrictions” than the public expected before the roadmap was published.

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Órla Ryan

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