It appears that much of Europe is struggling to contain the Coronavirus. Countries that did well in the Spring are heading back into lockdown. Last night here in Ireland we heard the official confirmation of what had been an open secret for days – we are heading into a 6 week lockdown. Whilst the schools will remain open, the restrictions are severe, perhaps only omitting a curfew.
The reaction last night and this morning from media and commentators was largely shock combined with aggressive attempts to lay the blame – primarily on the government. For example:
– If you had listened to the medical men perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess.
– If you hadn’t listened to the medical men perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess.
– If you had moved earlier the lockdown need only have been 4 weeks!
– If you had waited another few weeks perhaps the existing restrictions would have worked.
– If you had been clearer about the restrictions perhaps more people would have adhered to the rules.
– If you had developed a better test and contact tracing system, we would be in a much better state.
And so on . . . .
A common response to going back into lockdown is, “It’s like Groundhog Day; we have learnt nothing in the past 7 months and when we exit the lockdown, we assume we’ll be back to square one in just a few weeks!” An emerging question is how many lockdowns must we endure before the arrival of a vaccine?
Then we have the naysayers. A disparate group of medicine men (sic) are arguing forcefully that the current strategy will never work. Instead we should lock down the elderly and let the virus rip. Ignore the fact that the elderly need to interact with society through their carers, medical professionals, family etc. Ignore the fact that the theory of herd immunity is unproven and that evidence is emerging of people getting Covid19 for a second time. But none the less these ideas weaken the resolve of many.
Then we have the loonies. With increasing frequency hundreds or even thousands descend on cities in flagrant breach of the guidelines to protest against mask wearing and the government’s attack on civil liberties. These groups attract conspiracy theorists, professional demonstrators, failed journalists and others yet also get huge press coverage and project the image that support for the mainstream government strategy is in reality very low.
Then we have the media. The Irish media are of course sharp and critical. And of course, in this day and age everyone is at least a scientist, probably an epidemiologist, or even a specialist in infectious diseases as well as an expert in medical data analysis. One good example is Fergal Bowers, medical correspondent for the national broadcaster (RTE). Today following the lockdown announcement he published an opinion piece that instead of communicating the guidelines and analysing the potential medical impact of the lockdown, is making a call for transparency including such gems as:
– It would be highly valuable to have a reasoning of how we can escape this lockdown, so that people can judge progress, week by week.
– To coincide with the latest decisions, it would have been helpful to have a detailed statistical examination of why we are where we are and the expected impact, day by day, week by week, of cases, deaths, hospital admissions for the next six weeks?
– The basis for Level 5 decisions should be laid out, on paper, in high statistical detail, with all the background data, with weekly projections for the next six weeks, so that there can be full buy-in about a return to some normality.
Against this chaotic background very few commentators are actually adding value to what should be a clarion call for a national effort. However, there is just one Irish commentator who stands out above the crowd. Fergus Finlay, one time Chief Executive of Bernardos Ireland writes under the heading – “The only ones who can beat the virus are us.” Here’s a couple of extracts:
– and in our heart of hearts, we all know that we haven’t applied enough cop-on to the challenge we have
– But if we were really copped-on, like we think we are, we’d have beaten the virus by now. By doing the simple things copped-on people do. Washing our hands constantly. Protecting our neighbours by keeping a safe distance. Protecting our friends — and strangers — by wearing our masks.
– We haven’t been doing it enough. The numbers tell you that. When the public health experts use a phrase like “community transmission” they mean us. We’re the community that is transmitting the virus, one to the other. There is no-one else to blame. Just us.
– So can we do this? Can we just decide, for the sake of every stranger we meet, that we’ll never be caught with the virus on our hands if we can help it? That we’ll never endanger anyone — friend or stranger, by crowding them or coughing at them? That we’ll follow the rules absolutely rigorously to the best of our ability, even if we find them unpleasant? Because the truth is we’re never going to find the rules impossible.
I suspect this story isn’t unique to Ireland. I would be pleased to hear other reports from around the world and happy to publicise through my small blog.