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Ending The Lockdown In Ireland. Too Fast, Too Soon?

Though the Fine Gael-led Government seems determined to speed up the country’s transition through the various stages of the lockdown exit plan, spurred on by backbench TDanna and newspapers lobbying against the continued restrictions on behalf of various business interests, the push to prematurely end the pandemic controls implemented back in March is meeting its own criticism. While much of the established press is presenting the rapid easing of regulations as simply a recognition of reality in the face of increased rule-breaking by the general public some of that presentation may be an example of journalists reporting by proxy on their own frustrations and ideological disagreements with the regulations. A degree of “lockdown-scepticism” has shaped the opinions of a cadre of hard-right newspaper columnists since the start of the coronavirus crisis, with arguments not too dissimilar from those being aired by various fringe protesters on YouTube or in the Four Courts (minus the 5G and chemtrails conspiracy theories). Quite frankly there are more than a handful of people working in the Irish news media who place considerable more value on certain “jobs” than certain “lives”, and consider the sacrifice of the latter as a fair trade-off for the benefit of the former.

While we undoubtedly have to move from the last few months of lockdown to a more open society again such an exit can only take place in the context of a comprehensive, multi-agency system to manage the easing of restrictions and to manage a nation that is going to be living with the presence of the Covid-19 virus for many months – or years – to come. And there is little evidence that Leo Varadkar’s caretaker Government has put such a system in place. Which in a post-lockdown world makes us more like the UK and the US than South Korea or New Zealand and with the possibility, like the former two, of worse to come.

25 comments on “Ending The Lockdown In Ireland. Too Fast, Too Soon?

  1. You’re absolutely right. It’s only in recent years, naive as I am, that I’ve fully realised just how hysteric the “business community ” us at the thought of a lessening of profit margins. They are amoral maniacs and they’d sell the blood of their children before taking a cut. And “philanthropy ” does not clean that stain.

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  2. I’m all for caution over expediency, regardless of the pressures from businesses (big or small) and their lobbyists, or indeed from a public that is weary of lockdown, has sniffed “freedom” and is chomping at the bit to be released. Never has it been more critical that political leaders should err on the side of caution.

    I must say it’s inaccurate and, to my mind, a bit unfair to talk of “the UK” regarding the response to Covid-19. Scotland and Northern Ireland, and to a lesser extent, Wales, have for the most part been ploughing their own furrows re Covid. And while none have been perfect in their responses, they have all coped and managed a lot better than England.

    As a side note on the same theme, it has been very unhelpful and confusing for many of those who don’t live in England how the national media (the BBC in particular) report on Johnson et al as though whatever they claim or decide applies to all of the UK, when it only applies to England (and sometimes England and Wales).
    Almost as confusing are the various stats the media carries daily for Covid deaths – in hospital, in Care Homes, elsewhere, above the national average for the time of year. This is the playing out of a deliberate ploy by the government, I suspect, where each media outlet can cherry-pick whichever number suits its politics and run with that. Meanwhile, happily for Johnson and Cummings, the public is left confused and without a clue what the true number is. All media should have as their baseline “Above The National Average For This Time Of The Year” and work out from that.

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  3. They key pieces for controlling this thing between lockdown and vaccine would be contact tracing and testing-I know some European Constitutions would make this tough. How strong are privacy rights in the Irish one? (I tried looking that up, national Constitutions seem to generate a lot of misinformation no matter that country)

    Also if one goes out in public in Ireland right now, are people wearing masks much? My Liverpudlian pen pal says hardly anyone he sees in Liverpool does so. Where I am most people wear a mask, but the large majority of said masks were produced by hand or a hobbyist’s sewing machine. Also some people tie thin square scarves or bandanas to their faces. (Scarves here are uncommon by European standards and usually not of the same variety.) Some people make “stitchless masks” out of T-shirts, hair bands, safety bins, old bandanas, you name it….. Medical masks are desperately short for medical, clinic, and hospital personnel, so the general public is improving a bit.

    What’s the mask situation like in the ROI at the moment?

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    • I’m wearing a mask, well a bandanna, in public settings as are my siblings and mother. I see a few others doing so. A minority at the moment. But more than a week or two ago.

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      • Do you think the history with Ireland’s Independence and The Troubles could make people reluctant to wear masks due to the use of ski masks and face coverings?

        Also is sewing a common skill/hobby in Ireland? My impression was that it’s about equally common in Britain, Ireland and the US, but I’ve been wrong before.

        I actually managed to make a faceshield from oversized sun-glasses with the lenses removed, metal wire, a glue gun some spare parts, buttons and a transparent plastic piece from an old binder. I wear nylon scarves (square smaller than the kind often worn in Ireland) over cotton masks. Some that my mother’s old coworker made with her sewing machine and was selling-said she’d split the profits between a homeless shelter and a group sponsoring vaccine research (not just for this pandemic but in general!!). Some I made by hand. I suppose now is the time to be grateful that they forced me to take home ec when I didn’t want to. (No that wasn’t sexism at the time shop and home ec were mandatory for all).

        There was a study saying that if absolutely everyone wore a masks it could stop a second wave of Covid-19.

        https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200611/widespread-face-mask-use-could-control-second-wave

        As for lockdown regulations I wish it was more of a system where what was closed and what was permitted was more based on science than guesses, or worse the knowledge that some operations deemed “essential” are particularly prone to spreading the virus.

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  4. TB a much more deadly killer existing from the beginning of mankind a virus that killed many millions and life went on had to go on .

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    • Actually TB was largely eradicated in Ireland decades ago – Noel Browne was famous for pushing measures to do so during the Clann na Poblachta/Fine Gael coalition, the construction of new hospitals and sanatoria, the interaction of the widespread use of antibiotics to quash it, measures that in fairness were continued by FF. And my uncle in the 50s spent a couple of years in a sanatorium with TB. So to say ‘life went on’ is to perhaps ignore the enormous efforts to contain and eventually largely eradicate it on the island and In many other places. Or to put it another way, there’s a weird passivity I read and hear from some in respect of Covid-19 as if it is almost an act of God that we can do little or nothing to push back agains and we just have to go out and live our lives in the shadow of it. If we’d taken that line with TB we’d probably still have people like my uncle wasting their twenties in beds in medical institutions across this island. And Ireland in 2020 is incomparably better placed to deal with Covid-19 than the genuinely impoverished ireland of the 1940s was to deal with TB.

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      • BTW great post ASF.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes and no. TB while a terrible disease and once a death sentence was a different animal. Much of the transmission of TB is the result of living at close quarters and often with inadequate ventilation.

        That was certainly a big challenge for such a poor country. However, with Covid-19 where the demand has become not to get within six feet of another human being except maybe members of your immediate household, not to work in many cases, for kids to miss school, public transit suspended and everything closed. That’s a much, much more radical set of demands than any TB campaign I’ve ever heard of.

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        • Surely, but that still doesn’t mean that there’s no reason to push back sharp against the disease, at least where it is possible to do so.

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          • Of course not. The big question remains how. By Irish Independence, there was a fair bit of knowledge about TB and a safe if low efficacy vaccine. It is an ancient menace.

            Comparatively we only have a few months of knowledge about this virus. There have been studies out of Oxford and Cambridge saying universal mask wearing can prevent a second wave. Now you have some disease specialists saying face shields are superior to masks. This isn’t putting down any of the scientists, but it’s what you get when a disease is new.

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  5. gendjinn

    “While we undoubtedly have to move from the last few months of lockdown to a more open society again…”

    Why?

    Cui bono?

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    • Well we cant stay indoors forever. But if your point is, why return to the social and economic pre-virus status quo, I heartily agree. That we should not return to. We have pushed the door slightly ajar to see that a better world is possible. We should continue to open it.

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      • To me the idea of a pandemic as an instrument of positive social change-is a sorely misguided one. Like the kind of plot point Ursula LeGuin often used as a form of satire. Even as satire I’m not sure it was so funny……even long before this suck landed on the world!!

        A better world is of course, possible but I see none of that coming out of this wretched pandemic. I see people who’ve been driven to distraction with loneliness and a strange psychological experiment performed on half the human race-even if it was to save lives.

        It’s been horrible. Kids have missed school all over the world-to say they can get an adequate education by online distant learning -especially with the littler ones- is a load of crap. My mother was a teacher for many years and she says kids under 9 really need some minimal rapport with the teacher, the structure of the classroom and learning tools they can physically hold in their hands (pegs, abacus, crayons etc) to learn well. Older students can’t do hands on subjects, and none of them can learn from interacting with peer groups. It’s pretty terrible.

        A lot of the businesses that could go out of business are not “greedy big businesses” so much as smaller companies that in some cases are just coming up in historically economically deprived areas. Public transit in much of the US is losing a lot of money after Obama worked so hard to improve it.

        In a lot of countries domestic violence reports have exploded exponentially, while child abuse reports have sunk like a stone. One knows that same stuff that has made domestic violence explode is going to have the same effects on child abuse. It’s just that in many countries teachers and school personnel do most of the reporting of child abuse. Other common reporters such as neighbors, clergy etc aren’t seeing the kids either!!! So you know a lot of horrible stuff is going on behind closed doors.

        I have no time for any argument that conflates everything that was wrong with the world before this pandemic with people wanting to ride a light rail, see a movie in a theater, or fucking chat with friends on the front porch!!!

        Of course, I know of some communities where people might be more than a little offended at the idea of a pandemic being the thing to usher in social change…namely they would look at that prospect as you would the idea of a terrible famine as the instrument of some wonderful social change!!

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        • The domestic violence, and sexual exploitation in the home, are the scary stats in all this. God knows what some women and children are suffering with no escape that comes just from the abuser being temporarily out of the home. I actually find the thoughts of that quite upsetting.

          But is that not an indictment of our societies? That there is in fact an epidemic of abuse that we have yet to tackle across the developed world.

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          • It’s not just the abuser not being out of the house. Lockdown often traps the victims as well. It’s a batterer’s dream come true for the victim to be kept away from workplace, relatives, other friends, church, or even whatever venue that society uses to “hang out”. With the kids it’s school, other family, or simply the ability to go outside and play until the heat cools down.

            My brother is a medic, and when it worked in the ER it was a “three a clock routine” where near the end of the school day school nurses and personnel would bring in a bunch of children who had come to school trying to hide various injuries. They saw concussions, broken arms, bruises that had the school nurse afraid or internal bleeding or looked like the kid had been strangled, whip scars, torn rectums and vaginas, gonorrhea of the throat in five or six year olds, ,and stuff I won’t even write here…Basically a teacher sensed something was wrong so the school nurse asked questions. Sometimes older kids told a teacher or school nurse they were raped at home. Now the few cases of child abuse they see in the ER, involve children who are so badly injured they are at death’s door-a rare outcome in non-pandemic times, and are being sent to the “non-coronavirus” ICU.

            Is that an indictment of our societies?

            That’s where things get tricky, isn’t it? On one hand you never want to give the current system an excuse, but on the other hand a lot of these problems are very old and hard to solve. Certainly there’s no excuse for Trump changing the definition of sexual assault or Putin decriminalizing domestic violence. However, not being able to reign in these problems 100% isn’t always a failure of a current society-indeed there ability to reduce it 50% in a decade may be an extraordinary accomplishment.

            Of course, there are still plenty of politicians, institutions, or bad actors I would never let off the hook no matter what. However, I don’t really buy the thinking that if a problem can’t be solved quickly society has failed…….especially if the problem is very old and runs deep. Even how to intervene can be a dilemma sometimes.

            There is a concept called “behavioral path dependence” that says the longer a society has gone down a particular road the harder it becomes to change it. Well domestic violence and child abuse are ancient problems sad to say.

            By comparison even British colonialism in Ireland is a rather modern a young problem!! This stuff goes back millennia in much of the world. For many centuries children were property and sometimes women were chattel. Which makes some of these problems extraordinarily hard to change.

            To the extent that society CAN seek to change it, I’m not optimistic about the pandemic as some instrument that will bring society’s problems to light so people will become determined to change it. Look at all the people who believed The Great Famine was a gift from God to modernize Ireland. Looking to disasters as a catalyst for a better society does not have a nice history at all.

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            • I’ve almost taken the opposite lesson from this. I now think the chances of a coherent effort on climate change are less rather than more likely. We’re in the midst of the worst public health issue / pandemic in generations and yet business lobbies and a portion of populations (in Ireland in polling no more than a 1/3rd) have seen fairly rational reopening plans accelerated hugely in the face of scientific and medical advice and practice. If we’re unable to go that bit further to quash Covid-19 – something that has seen staggering death rates (and by the by, was watching Ad Astra which was released on this last year where there’s an event that kills tens of thousands globally and in the film that’s regarded as a massive on-going new story, whereas here we have a virus that has killed many many times that number and somehow that is almost ignored) I don’t really see much hope on the climate change front.

              Liked by 1 person

              • My perspective is that the pandemic probably won’t stifle the will to do something about climate, change but I am worried about it.

                In my mind social distancing, and climate action don’t really have an easy relationship.

                One biggie in the US front is the issue of public transit. I’m not sure when you were last in parts of the Western and Midwestern US, but Obama put LOADS of resources towards increasing public transit in a lot of US cities and towns. Much of it came under the ARRA (American Reinvestment and Recovery Act) of 2009, but it included a tremendous amount of Federal Resources towards Amtrak and various public transit projects. Also starting in about 2004, there was distinct shift toward cities, towns, counties, and states being willing to vote for ring-fenced sales taxes towards public transit-ei that couldn’t be diverted towards road projects. So we’ve really seen not just a sea-change in terms of resources but also innovations. Ridership exceeded expectations wildly.

                However, now a lot of these systems that received so much investment have seen revenues from fares and sales taxes drop 50-70%.

                On the last time I went out before the lockdown I was actually at a meeting regarding BRT’s for the city I live in. They also were talking ComRails, Aerial Gondolas, and more exotic possibilities for transit.

                That said. I don’t believe this will squash various climate efforts. It is a extremely frustrating and demoralizing setback, rather than a benefit.

                One area where I am optimistic is that I suspect people will be more willing to pour money into more innovative areas of research and some of that will be climate related.

                It does seem perverse to treat that research money as a “silver lining” to all the suffering this pandemic has wrought around the world. It might happen, but I’m never going to think the pandemic!!!

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      • gendjinn

        Your phrasing is the warning siren. Whenever terms like “we undoubtedly have to” are bandied about and zero evidence provided to support the assertion, there generally is none. Evidence or obligation. As there is here.

        We absolutely can live indoors for another year or two. There is no compelling reason to return to work during a pandemic with no vaccine and asymptomatic carriers. Except to prevent the entire apparatus of western capitalism and oppression to collapse.

        Are you so eager to be cannon fodder for the capitalists? Wouldn’t a general strike be far preferable? We have them on their knees, another few months and the entire edifice of western financial capitalism will collapse. The REITs – commercial and residential are about to kick off a wave of financial collapse that will surpass all previous collapses.

        Be more like the cops, keep kneeling on the system for the full 10 minutes. Make sure it’s well and truly dead.

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    • Let’s start with the fact that man is largely a social animal.

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  6. Covid19 has wreaked havoc in the families and friends of those it has affected and our efforts should be first to ensure that those who continue to suffer from the disease caused by Sars-Cov-2 are looked after and that those who continue to be vulnerable to the virus are prioritised. We now know that this means primarily the elderly and those with immune system deficiencies.

    Back in March we knew less about the disease but we should not underestimate the huge gamble the government were taking with the lockdown policy. This was a policy that had never been tried before. There is no precedent for closing down businesses and keeping healthy adults confined to there homes in response to an infectious disease. Prior to this the only ones who would have been quarantined during an epidemic were the sick.

    As more and more data comes in we need to be able to take a good hard look at the data and ask ourselves was it the right decision. There are countries which chose not to lockdown such as Japan, South Korea and Sweden. Although its too soon yet to come to a definitive answer it’s not at all clear from the data that lockdown was the right answer. Camille Stoltenberg, Norway’s public health director, has said the virus could have been controlled without lockdown.

    Given that lockdown itself has caused lives in missed cancer screenings, operations being put on hold, suicides and a host of other effects that are mentioned in previous comments such as child abuse of children forced to stay at home with their abuser. It’s important to emphasize that unlike the virus the effects sexual abuse last a lifetime. We need to ask ourselves have we paid to high a price for a virus which many virologists compare in its lethality to a bad flu season.

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    • Some good points well made, Dave. Especially on the indirect damage/suffering caused – cancer sufferers, domestic violence, mental health etc.

      But Sweden is a bad example for not locking down. This from the Guardian: “Sweden’s death rate per capita was the highest in the world over the seven days to 2 June, figures suggest. This week the government bowed to mounting opposition pressure and promised to set up a commission to look into its Covid-19 strategy.”

      And this from Tegnell, Sweden’s top epidemiologist, who planned its response: “If we were to encounter the same disease again knowing exactly what we know about it today, I think we would settle on doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Tegnell said. It would be “good to know exactly what to shut down to curb the spread of infection better”, he added.

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      • Dave Donnellan

        It is true that Tamam that like Ireland, Sweden did extremely poorly in looking after its elderly in nursing homes. And as a result the investigation that Sweden has promised is to look into this particular area of nursing home care to see what they need to learn. But this has to do with the targeted care for nursing homes during the pandemic and not the general policy of lockdown in Sweden. To portray this as a failure of Sweden’s general no lockdown policy in the general population, which the media have done, is not correct.

        As 90% of Covid19 deaths worldwide are in the over 65 demographic this is the key group to understand with regard to Covid19 deaths and Sweden and Ireland provide an interesting comparison in this regard. And looking at one particular day is not the best way to see the big picture. Sweden’s population (10m) is roughly twice that of Ireland (5m) but the fraction of their population over 65 is 20% whereas in Ireland it’s only 13%. So Sweden has far more of its population vulnerable to Covid19 than Ireland to start with.

        So how did this key demographic of over 65s fare with Covid19 in both countries? In Sweden per 100,000 of over 65s they had 232 deaths. And as you mentioned Tamam they have promised an investigation to see what happened that led to this high number. In Ireland per 100,000 of over 65s we had 257 deaths. In a country with far fewer over 65s we had far more deaths in that demographic and also far more collateral deaths from lockdown. This is a major scandal that should at the very least give us pause to consider if we have made the right decision.

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        • Very good points, Dave, I must explore them further. The nursing home situation, at least in the UK and, maybe to a lesser extent, Ireland, has been a disgrace. It’s as though the, possibly unspoken, attitude from the outset was that the elderly are expendable.

          Earlier we both alluded to some of the hidden effects of Covid-19, below (from today’s New York Times) are some others that didn’t even cross my mind:

          “A hidden cost of coronavirus
          Many countries suspended their immunization programs this spring because of fears that they could spread Covid-19. Now doctors worry that other diseases will cause widespread death: Diphtheria in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal; cholera in South Sudan, Cameroon, Mozambique, Yemen and Bangladesh; and poliovirus and measles in multiple countries.”

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      • There actually are a bunch of options. For one thing there is a growing body of evidence saying that if the vast majority of people wear masks in public (even low effectiveness cloth masks) a second wave could be averted.

        Another biggie is to randomly test large number of low to moderate risk people and institute a contact tracing program. Since most contagion involves people who spend a significant time in each other’s company such as living in the same home, sharing a workplace, being in environments such as church, spending time at each other’s house etc, rather than passerbys or people one briefly sat next to on a bus, contact tracing can if done quickly find most of the people who were exposed to that person. If the exposed test positive and it was determined they were contagious before they were quarantined the idea is to track down those contacts until the lines of contagion end.

        Since you don’t get them all, that’s where test large numbers of people comes in. One very cheap antigen test is about 80% effective and can do much larger numbers of people than the PCR tested that were being used earlier.

        Plus new concepts that while not ready for prime time stand a good chance of panning out, include things like Covid-19 sniffing dogs, or ways to make UV disinfection safe for people.

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