Covid-19 in Ireland: No End in Sight

Yesterday the Irish Government put the brakes on the relaxation of the restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic and tightened up some existing rules. The reason for this move is obvious when you look at the data:

After dropping to very low numbers of new cases a couple of months ago, the curve has been steadily rising. On Saturday 200 new cases were reported and yesterday the figure was 190. The average number of cases per day over the last 7 days is now over a hundred. The last time it was that high was in early May.

So what has gone wrong?

A large fraction of the cases appearing in the latest outbreaks is associated with either meat (or other food) processing plants and with direct provision centres. These are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks because of the difficulty of maintaining social distancing. Most of the people involved however are under the age of 40, so these outbreaks are not (yet) associated with a significant increase in mortality. Until recently it was hoped these localised `events’ could be contained by testing, contact-tracing and isolation.

Unfortunately these outbreaks are happening at a time when public adherence to Covid-19 restrictions has also been declining. I have noticed over the past few weeks that many people in Maynooth are congregating outside, especially in Courthouse Square, without any attempt at social distancing and with nobody wearing a face masks. Pubs in the area are serving drinks to take away and people are just taking them outside and treating the public areas as a big beer garden. The law it seems can do nothing about this, and pub landlords are doing nothing to discourage it.

The problem in this respect started back in June when the (then) Taoiseach Leo Varadkar decided to accelerate the stages of the Roadmap. I didn’t understand this at the time. The plan was carefully thought out and was working. Why change it? The answer is of course intensive lobbying from vested interests worried about the impact on their own finances.

Anyway, the effect of this change was immediately noticeable in that a sizeable contingent of the public clearly thought it was a signal that the Covid-19 outbreak was over and became complacent about the continuing risk of community transmission.

I think of the outbreaks in factories and direct provision centres as sparks that can hopefully be snuffed out quickly. The real risk to the public however is from these sparks spreading the conflagration into the general population. Social distancing acts like a sort of fire break – that’s what the new restrictions are trying to achieve.

What this means for the next month or so I can’t say, but I wouldn’t rule out a full lockdown being imposed again.I hope that doesn’t happen because I am looking forward to getting back to teaching, but it’s looking touch-and-go at the moment.

 

One Response to “Covid-19 in Ireland: No End in Sight”

  1. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “put the brakes on the relaxation of the restrictions”

    Not quite as good as “I am not opposed to the repeal of the prohibition”, but you’re getting there.

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