The closer it gets the more nervous people are becoming. October 22nd is a red-letter day for the easing of many of the restrictions that have changed society and hampered sport for the past 18 months as we emerge from under the threat of Covid.

The Government is like the referee in the middle of the field waving play on and saying that the plan is still to ease, but it’s like as though the line official is waving with increasing agitation to make them come and take a look, like a VAR decision, and maybe change their mind.

In this stretched analogy, NPHET is the official and it seems now as though the Government is rowing back on the certainty of next week going ahead as planned.

At the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media budget briefing only 24 hours ago, Minister of State Jack Chambers was still painting a picture of optimism.

“I am hopeful and optimistic that in the aftermath of October 22nd we will see the safe return of fans to full stadia,” he said.

“The pilot events that we have enabled and monitored have gone very well and we are already seeing 75 per cent attendance at some games.”

“Obviously we will not do anything that goes against strong medical evidence but we are optimistic.”

That level of optimism was not fully shared by Taoiseach Micheal martin as the day wore on though and by this morning we were nervous again that restrictions would still be in place.

Sale of Tickets

The sale of tickets for the three Ireland Rugby internationals at the Aviva Stadium, as well as for the visit of Portugal in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers have yet to be given the full green light though plans are in place that these will play to full houses.

They will be the first to do so since February 2020 and will be a major element of financial planning for the sports through the winter.

If the easing of restrictions is paused it would be a serious blow. If they were to be strengthened in the face of rising case numbers that would be a ferocious blow.

We are just getting back to the swing of seeing players and fans on basketball courts; we are looking forward to welcoming the best Cross Country runners in Europe to the Sport Ireland Campus in December. We are still haunted by the dark days of last winter when society and sport was shut down having tasted summer freedom.

It’s highly unlikely that we are heading in the same direction but we never thought then that it would be anywhere near as bad either.

Our daily case numbers, which still sound daily around six o’clock like the Angelus of old, are nudging over 2,000. That is half the rate of Britain where there are no soundings of fear or even much caution around large gatherings.

The numbers that matter are those in hospital beds and ICU but they do not grab the headlines.

Full vaccination, in which we lead the world, seems to provide ample protection to avoid the most damaging impact of this brutal virus.

Do we know what proportion of those who are suffering the most are unvaccinated and should that be factored into the decision making?

Nobody wanted to have a twin-track society where you could only travel freely if you were in one cohort over another, but we are a democracy and if the free movement of the majority has to be curtailed to protect the choice of a small minority, is that right?

This is a story that is developing on an hourly basis, and not in a positive direction. Epidemiologists are again on the airwaves talking about us being on a knife-edge, which is never a comfortable thing to hear.

We were badly burned by being too free to move last Christmas but surely we are in a different place now, aren’t we?


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