At the beginning of the week it was reported that the 14-day average of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 in the Irish State had risen to 22.1 compared to 18.6 for the UK and 16.3 for Germany. The Acting Chief Medical Officer warned this was because people were socialising with each other “recklessly”, the disease was spreading “really widely” among younger people and was likely to spread to older people “unless we change what we are doing, and do something different.”
“We are seeing outbreaks among younger people, but once it gets into nursing homes we would see a much higher mortality.” Meanwhile ‘senior Government sources’ complained about growing anxiety about “Covid fatigue” among the public.
As a result the Government announced a series of new measures this week, with immediate effect, and promised to provide a new plan for the management of the virus over the next six to nine months.
It was reported at the same time that the 14-day average of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 had increased to 26, up from four earlier in the year. The Health Minister noted that “we are at tipping point. Ireland’s rate of growth in new cases over the last two weeks is the fourth highest in Europe. In the last two months we have gone from a low of 61 cases in one particular week to 533 cases last week.”
The Taoiseach announced that “if the current increase continues, it will be impossible to stop the spread of the virus to our most vulnerable and most compromised”, while The Irish Times reported that ‘there are significant concerns that a big increase in cases is on the way in the coming days.’ All this when it has also been reported that the test and trace system has been slowing down.
To put this in context it should be recognised that the number of deaths has been low:
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One commentator in The Irish Times however stated that “the public gets increasingly restive – some resentful of those flouting the lockdown; others fed up of it and wondering why Ireland’s lockdown is one of the most stringent in Europe despite relative success in containing the virus over the summer.”
In truth, the Irish State is in danger of repeating the same mistakes as before, despite its self-congratulation at being better than the British, which is currently no longer the case according to its own quoted metric.
It hadn’t occurred to this newspaper commentator that it was the virus that had contained the population, and it was this that was one of the most stringent in Europe; or that this is why opening up has inevitably resulted, as it has all over the world, in the renewed spread of the virus.
It has happened now, before winter, when it was stated that we faced a potential second wave when the weather turned for the worse. Yet despite this earlier warning we are now informed that the Government is working on a new strategy when surely the existing one for the second wave is already waiting to be taken off the shelf?
The inevitable spread explains what many see as the anomaly between previous success and the forecast increased transmission, and highlights the many contradictions in the Government’s policy pointed out immediately after the introduction of the new measures.
What strikes one first in looking at them is their meagreness, the main impact of which seems to be to delay the easing that was planned. The new measures include:
- All visits to home limited to six people from outside the home and from no more than three households, with outdoor gatherings limited to fifteen people
- The closing time for restaurants, cafes and pubs (serving food) to be extended by half an hour
- Sports events to be held behind closed doors
- Public transport to be avoided and in private transport mask wearing is advised where there are mixed households and
- The over-70s are asked to exercise individual judgment in their social interaction (which it must really be assumed they have been doing already)
It has been pointed out that while the over-70s are advised to stay at home Masses and other religious services are to continue as before. While still told that they are allowed to holiday in the State by the Taoiseach, the Acting Chief Medical Officer warns that “at the moment we wouldn’t be recommending that someone would go to a hotel.”
Weddings are still allowed attendance by 50 people, despite public health advice that it be limited to six, while gatherings at home are limited to six. Even a ‘Government source’ described this as “incoherent.”
The move to close sporting events has been described by a professor of experimental immunology from TCD as “bizarre” given that (some) pubs are open, so that you can watch games on TV in the pub but not outside from the sidelines, adding that public transport was not an area of great transmission. While accepting that there must be some rise in cases he hoped that the new measures represented a more “finessed and tailored” approach than the previous lockdown, which might be like the proverbial lipstick on a pig. It has been noted that there are no specific measures for meat plants, which have been significant sites of transmission.
The public health advice is clearly stronger than the measures introduced and is warning that a full lockdown may have to be reintroduced, something already rejected in private by the Government. It is clear that a full lockdown will not work, as has already been proved, and will cause much more significant long term problems than it solves as I have argued in a number of previous posts on the virus.
Unfortunately, while the politicians reject a complete lockdown they also warn that development of the current situation threatens those most at risk – the old and vulnerable – yet there is no focus or strategy on this group, except advice that your actions are at your own risk. Having tried a complete lockdown the Government has failed put together a more limited strategy to protect those most at risk, calling into question, for anyone who cares to think about it, the previous lockdown and all its costs. The more it tailors and finesses the less sense it appears to make.
While many people are angry at the measures in place either because they are fed up with them and don’t see the risk to them or the death toll as justification, others are blaming this group for the growth of infections. Like the strategy of the Tory Government in Britain, including Scotland and also the North of Ireland, the Government’s responsible for the failure to protect those known to be at risk are setting themselves up to blame those they rule. If people are angry now they should be made aware that the bill is in the post and will not be limited to billions of Euros, but will include the effects of ill health brought on by economic deprivation.
As an alternative it is possible to demand a coherent strategy that focuses on protecting the vulnerable and that avoids the inconsistencies of the existing strategy, which claims justification from public health advice that it cannot and will not implement.
Similar comments could be made in relation to the measures introduced in the North and the promise of more stricter measures that have just been flagged.
Confusion now does not bode well for the future need for a well-grounded resistance to the austerity that is coming, or the blame that will inevitably be seeking a target. In this respect we should remember the claim after the financial crash that ‘we all got carried away’ as the explanation for the failure of the Celtic Tiger. Given the buy-in by so many to the Government’s approach blaming it will not be as simple as blaming the bankers, not that that did any good anyway.