I read the story this week of a wee Northern Ireland boy called Charlie Cunningham, who is just 11 years old.

He’s autistic, profoundly deaf and has a severe learning disability. His parents, now both working from home, are worried that lockdown means he’s become bored and frustrated and his challenging behaviour has regressed further.

And you think lockdown is tough for you?

I read that story on Monday, and the following evening BBC Spotlight featured harrowing stories about the increasing levels of domestic violence in the pandemic.

On both Monday and Tuesday, I also followed the news of the shenanigans at Stormont over where the fight against Covid goes next, and I wondered how much the plight of vulnerable people played in the shambolic deliberations of our politicians.

Nobody would deny making these decisions is an incredibly tough task for those in authority, but the level of party politicking is not a good look.

There was a logic to sharing this wee place that both sides should have a veto as a means of protection if one community ever tried to force something through that was abhorrent to the “other side.”

But whatever the original purpose was, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t introduced so that one Unionist party could block a proposal from a Minister representing another Unionist party.

As I write, journalists are tweeting that the Ulster Unionist Health Minister, Robin Swann wanted to extend the restrictions we’ve been following for another two weeks, indeed one journalist suggested that the Chief Medical Officer, Michael McBride wanted them extended to the end of November.

But the DUP blocked the move and their Minister, Diane Dodds put forward another proposal to open things up at least a little.

We’re missing something here, surely?

The debate over restrictions seemed to me to get bogged down in a “hospitals versus hospitality” issue. Or more widely, people’s health versus the economy. And I think there are a lot more issues, and they are issues which were already there for us as a society and are being heightened to alarming levels by the events of 2020.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel for the hospitality industry. Jobs and businesses are at stake and many of them won’t open again. Indeed, it must be so frustrating that restaurateurs, hoteliers and others are sitting waiting to see if they can even open this weekend. It’s soul destroying.

Plus, this has an impact on us all.

We are a culture that likes to get out and meet people, to socialise with others over a drink, a nice meal or simply catch up with friends with a cup of coffee. It may not seem a major imposition to have to go without this for a while, and that’s true, but the longer this goes on the more impact it has.

The idea of allowing restaurants to open but not allow them to serve alcohol seemed an odd one to me. I mean, I get the argument that when people consume alcohol they become less disciplined over social distancing.

But this seems to be just tinkering; most restaurants have been putting proper compliance measures in place. And there’s no restriction on the amount of alcohol people can buy for house parties.

One publican told me this week that he’d been approached to see if he would sell an individual a keg of beer for home, which he refused to do on principle.

While the focus seems to be on the hospitality industry, the wider questions in society remain. Families like Charlie Cunningham’s struggle at the best of times and many with special needs are at breaking point.

Our schoolchildren are struggling with stress levels, according to the NSPCC in the United Kingdom. They’ve warned that calls to the Childline service reached nearly 43,000 between March and October with children feeling isolated, anxious and insecure.

The whole uncertainty over exams and even being denied the opportunity to get out and play sport, for example, are matters which are affecting our children’s health and wellbeing.

I heard one interview in which someone said we should focus on opening up business because we can always re-educate our children later. Which not only sounded heartless, it completely ignored the problems we are storing up for the future.

It even took a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford to enable many children to get a free meal, so what does that say about the Westminster Government’s priorities?

And the figures in the Spotlight programme about the increase in domestic violence in the pandemic’s isolation were shocking. But it also pointed out that these figures were on the rise dramatically for years before the pandemic.

Another issue which is storing up problems for the future is our overall physical health; already waiting lists were alarmingly high, and now there are many people waiting for treatment, failing to get cancer diagnoses etc

Indeed, let us not forget that in all these difficult issues, be it domestic violence, mental health, a society which relies on foodbanks, increasing unemployment, the problems of the vulnerable were already there and not being dealt with. The pressure of Covid is simply racheting them up.

If there is to be a “new normal” on the other side of this pandemic, I hope it means a more empathetic society which looks after people.

The politicians will quite rightly point to the level of difficulty this situation has placed them in; we have never seen anything like this.

But where is the plan to plot the way through? We appear to have gone into this circuit breaker with too vague a hope that we’d come out of it this Friday, but now the politicians can’t agree on that exit strategy.

People need clarity, certainty of decisions which allow them to plan at least in the short term.

The one ray of light this week was the news that we are on the brink of a vaccine, described by the Chairman of Pfizer as “a great day for science and humanity” and Professor of Medicine at Oxford, Sir John Bell predicted we could be returning to normal by the Spring.

High hopes indeed. But we can’t ignore the issues which continue to exist. Covid is here, as we saw only too vividly in the terribly tragic deaths of six people in the Millcroft Care Home in Enniskillen.

We all need to continue to stay safe, to follow the rules and have a responsibility to keep others safe. Remember this, too, will pass.