After introducing one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, Ireland ranked first on Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking in September 2021. According to the Financial Post, “Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking scores the largest 53 economies on their success at containing the virus with the least amount of social and economic disruption.” Ireland’s high vaccination rates and economic plans likely contribute to it securing the first-place ranking. By September 10, 2021, 90% of Ireland’s adult population was fully vaccinated. However, as Ireland slowly eases its restrictions, there are concerns that COVID-19’s impact on Ireland may be lasting.
COVID-19’s Far-Reaching Impact
By November 27, 2021, Ireland reported more than 556,000 COVID-19 cases and 5,652 deaths. However, the death toll is not the only measurement of COVID-19’s impact on Ireland. As the government attempts to combat the pandemic, there is evidence that COVID-19 also impacts Ireland in several other ways:
- High unemployment rates plague Ireland. In 2020, the unemployment rate in Ireland reached an all-time high of 31.5%. However, despite COVID-19’s impact on Ireland last year, unemployment has dropped to 7.9% in October 2021. Ireland’s Finance Ministry estimates that the rate will reduce further to 7.2% in 2022.
- COVID-19 harshly impacts certain industries. Across the world, the tourism and hospitality sectors faced the most severe impacts of COVID-19. Border closures, travel restrictions and limitations on gatherings significantly impact these sectors. According to the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation, in April 2020, about 90% of hotel staff in Northern Ireland were “furloughed or laid off.”
- COVID-19 impacts education in Ireland. In September 2021, Irish schools noted a high absence of school children due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases. In the second week of September alone, 12,000 children in Ireland missed school because of close contact with COVID-19 positive individuals. One official describes the school system as “overwhelmed,” prompting the Northern Ireland Assembly to schedule an urgent meeting to address the situation.
- Ireland’s health care system is under pressure. A sudden surge in COVID-19 cases has led to absent health care workers. In October 2021, approximately 2,700 infected health workers did not attend work due to COVID-19. The decreasing staff numbers in hospitals has major consequences. Hospitals across Ireland had to cancel more than 400 medical procedures in October 2021 due to staff shortages.
A Hopeful Look to the Future
Despite COVID-19’s Impact on Ireland, hope is on the horizon. In June 2021, the Irish government revealed its National Economic Recovery Plan. The plan commits €3.6 billion to assist employees and businesses enduring the harsh impacts of COVID-19. The plan also involves “a phased ending to pandemic unemployment payments, property tax increases for some and an emphasis on the green economy.”
One of the plan’s most salient features is its attempt to combat the unemployment rate. The plan extends the Public Employment service, increasing its caseload by 100,000 per year. The strategy also supports the upskilling and reskilling of the labor force. The plan also seeks to increase incentives for recruiting unemployed youth.
In October 2021, the Irish unemployment rate fell to a level of 10%, which is the nation’s lowest rate since the inception of the pandemic. The represents a sharp decline from not just the previous month’s 12.4% unemployment rate but also the 31% all-time high from the previous year. In addition, the youth unemployment rate is falling and the Central Bank predicts that Ireland’s recovery plan could create 160,000 jobs before the end of 2023.
– Richard J. Vieira