A Year of Covid-19 in Ireland

Last night I was updating my Covid-19 statistics and plotting new graphs (which I do every day – the results are here) when I noticed that I now have 365 data points. The first officially recorded case of Covid-19 in Ireland was dated 29th February 2020 (although there is evidence of cases in Ireland before that, including one of community transmission). I can’t actually mark the anniversary of that date exactly – for obvious reasons – but it seems a good point to look at what has happened. I didn’t actually start doing a daily update until 22nd March when we were all in the first lockdown but there were relatively few cases in the intervening time and it was possible quite easily to fill in the earlier data.

Little did I know that I would be doing an update every day for a year!

Anyway, here are today’s plots:

 

On a linear y-axis the cases look like this:

 

The numbers for deaths on a linear scale look like this:

 

The recent trend is for a slow decline in new cases, hospitalizations, ICU referrals and testing positivity rates which is all good news. The rate of vaccination- severely limited by supply issues – is starting to increase and from April to June is expected to reach a million a month and then two million a month thereafter. There is therefore some grounds for optimism that a significant fraction of the population will be immunized by the end of the summer, assuming the supply ramps up as expected and there are no more dirty tricks from certain pharmaceutical companies.

Comparing with the situations elsewhere I’d say that Ireland has in broad terms handled the pandemic quite well: worse than some (especially Scandinavian countries) but better than many. It does seem to me that there have been three serious errors:

  1. There has never been – and still isn’t – any sensible plan for imposing quarantine on arrivals into Ireland. A year on one is being put in place but it is simply ridiculous that an island like Ireland failed to do this earlier.
  2. Those lockdown measures that have been imposed have been very weakly enforced, and have often been accompanied by confused messaging from the Government, with the result that a significant minority of people have simply ignored the restrictions. The majority of the population has complied but the others that haven’t have kept the virus in circulation at a high level: the current daily rate of new cases is 650-700, which is far too high, and is declining only slowly.
  3. Finally, and probably the biggest mistake of all, was to relax restriction for the Christmas holiday. The huge spike in infections and deaths in January and February is a direct result of this catastrophic decision for which the Government is entirely culpable.

The situation in the United Kingdom with regard to 3 was even worse:

The excess mortality from January is a direct consequence of Boris Johnson “saving Christmas”. The difference in area under the two curves tells you precisely how many people he killed. I hope politicians on both sides of the Irish Sea are one day held to account for their negligence.

As for myself, I am reasonably optimistic for the future, and not just because Spring appears to have arrived. I have found the Covid-19 restrictions very irksome but I am fortunate to be in a position to cope with them reasonably well, especially now that I have my own house with a garden in a nice quiet neighbourhood.

It has been very hard work doing everything online, and it’s essential to take a break from the screen from time to time, but the upside of that is that by keeping busy you avoid becoming bored and frustrated. One thing that does annoy me though is the number of people who thinking that “working from home” means “not working at all”. I’m sure there are many others, especially in the education sector, who will agree with me!

Although I have coped reasonably well in a personal sense I still very much want to get back to campus to resume face-to-face teaching. I like talking to students and find teaching much more rewarding when there is a response. Moreover, since we’re now going to be off campus until the end of this academic year, that means that a second cohort of students will complete their degrees and graduate this summer without their lecturers being there to congratulate them in person and give them a proper sendoff into the big wide world. I find that very sad.

Anyway, tomorrow we start week 5 of the Semester, which means 4 weeks have passed. That means there are two weeks before the Study Break, the halfway point of teaching term, and we are one-third of the way through the semester. Life goes on.

15 Responses to “A Year of Covid-19 in Ireland”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    The original purpose of lockdown was never to eliminate the virus but to prevent national health services from filling up with emergencies and consequently having to turn away further emergencies. This strategy was successful in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Then the vaccine trials looked good, and the purpose of lockdown seems now to be to minimise deaths while people wait for the vaccines. That is a different calculation, and I don’t think it has been made clear to people that the purpose is changing underfoot, or what the end criteria are and why.

    I find this a very useful graph for the UK:

    https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/covid-19-florence-nightingales-daigrams-for-deaths/

    It’s useful because of confusion over cause-of-death: you can see pretty clearly what covid did.

    Ultimately the people are governed by consent, and there have been major anti-lockdown protests in more European countries than most media have reported. I think that cancelling Christmas would have led to some here. So if you (Peter) take the position you do, is it not fairer to blame a proportion of the people than to say that Boris Johnson killed people? You would also have preferred enforcement of lockdown to be harsher; I understand both sides of that debate, but a lot of people don’t agree. Personally I think that people here would respect the lockdown measures more if these had been subject to votes in Parliament. (The outcome would probably have been the same but that’s not the point.) I also find the public debate skewed in that most voices in the media seem to be people who are ultimately in State, ie guaranteed employment. Small businesses, many at risk and whose taxes go to pay State employees, are under-represented. That is not a grumble at the need for State employees, but a plea that both sides of the debate be considered.

    • It seems to me that shopkeepers should have an interest in customers who are not dead.

      Despite the various protests, most people in most countries are not protesting the lockdown. Such events, like the storming of the U.S. Capitol, get a lot of press even if only a minority take part or even sympathize with them.

      • telescoper Says:

        There was a riot in Dublin yesterday that some have characterized as “anti-lockdown protest” but seems to have been a bunch of far-right goons intent on violence:

        https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/three-garda%C3%AD-injured-and-23-people-arrested-after-clashes-at-dublin-anti-lockdown-protest-1.4497218

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        You can’t sell if your shop has gone bust, can you?

      • This is a good example of something where the ends don’t justify the means. What is the point in a quick profit if customers infect each other and perhaps even the shopkeeper? A shopkeeper who survives could re-open after the pandemic.

        One good thing which might result out of the pandemic is that some of the libertarian types might realize that it really is possible that the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go astray and that one can be hit by misfortune through no fault of one’s own, and that some sort of social net is a good idea, even for self-employed people. Maybe we’ll hear fewer cries for less government, which I find especially annoying when the same people complain about lack of help when they get hit.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        You are entitled to your opinion that the ends don’t justify the means but the shopkeeper has another opinion. I am asking you that listen to each other and not simply blank each other. The shopkeeper quite probably limits the number of customers at any one time, and shops that the government has decided unilaterally are essential stay open.

      • As always, the question is how to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people, and to realize that one’s own freedom, be it economic or otherwise, must end where the freedom of others is compromised.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Close the supermarkets if you feel like that, Phillip. This is meant as a reductio ad absurdum argument; the situation is more complicated because there is both freedom to buy and freedom to sell to take into account as well as covid risks. You are still simply blanking the shopkeeper.

      • I don’t have the power to close the supermarkets, and wouldn’t even if I could. That doesn’t mean that all shops should stay open. As you say, the situation is complicated, and is not helped by claims that bureaucrats get off by exercising their power over libertarian shopkeepers. Reducing complicated things to the absurd is part of the problem.

    • telescoper Says:

      I don’t think your characterisation is correct. The Health Service in Ireland was very nearly overwhelmed in January and unlocking now at 650 cases per day the same thing would happen again in a few weeks. In my opinion the immediate purpose of lockdown has not changed. What has changed is that in a few months – maybe – enough people will be immunised that it will no longer be necessary to have such severe measures, and people are getting impatient. In my opinion some protocols will have to remain in place for a considerable time.

  2. I always thought the ‘save Christmas’ business was both daft and reckless, but I will admit that both govts (and the rest of us) were unlucky that the new strain proved so infectious.
    Re the experience of small businesses vs th experience of state employees (such as myself), I must say I am taken aback that the major unions have sought and got a pay rise at this difficult moment in time

    • telescoper Says:

      I’m still sceptical of these claims about the UK variant being much more infectious. It has proved a very convenient explanation, but haven’t seen any clear evidence that it didn’t just arise in situations where transmission was already at a high level.

      As for the pay rise (1%) I think it’s not excessive and in any case the public sector deserves it for keeping so much of the country going over the last year, particular in the education and health sectors.

      • Jonivar Skullerud Says:

        The evidence is pretty solid by now that the B117 strain is much more infectious. Put very simply, if it were not, it would not have rapidly taken over and become the dominant strain pretty much everywhere it has gained a foothold. In about 2 weeks it has risen from 20% to 40-50% of case in Oslo for example, coinciding with a very rapid deterioration of the situation there (leading to a full lockdown including closure of all non-essential shops in Oslo from tonight).

        The poor handling of the pandemic has been a pan-european affair, partly driven by an obsession with freedom of movement among decision-makers. and partly by a superiority complex that has prevented Europe from learning from other continents. The only country in Europe that has actually had a strategy is Iceland, who has largely emulated South Korea.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I think we all deserve a pay rise.

      • Everyone is overpaid, apart from me.

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