Archive for Bealtaine

Thoughts on Lá Bealtaine

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , on May 1, 2021 by telescoper

Today, 1st May, Beltane (Bealtaine in Irish) is an old Celtic festival that marks the mid-point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It’s one of the so-called Cross-Quarter Days that lie exactly halfway between the equinoxes and solstices. These ancient festivals have been moved so that they take place earlier in the modern calendar than the astronomical events that represent their origin: the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice is actually next week.

Anyway, any excuse is good for a Bank Holiday long weekend, so let me offer a hearty Lá Bealtaine sona daoibh!

While not excessively warm, the weather is at least pleasant enough for me to have had my breakfast outside in the garden. As I was sipping my coffee I thought how much nicer it is to be in my own home during all this. The one really big positive about last year was that I managed to buy a house and move in during a few-month window when that was possible.

I put up a post last year on May Day that was dominated by Covid-19. I didn’t really imagine that we would still be under restrictions a whole year later, but I didn’t imagine that vaccines would be available so quickly either. Now it seems I will have the chance to register for my shot(s) next week with the view to getting a first dose sometime in June. Possibly.

The precise timing of my vaccination shot isn’t particularly important to me at this point, as it looks like I’ll be stuck at work all summer with no possibility of a holiday (as was the case last year). On the bright side, my three-year term as Head of Department ends after next academic year so there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite the slow progress with vaccination – currently only about 28.5% of the adult population have received a first dose – and the very high case numbers – about 450 per day on average, and not decreasing – Ireland is now entering a phase of modest relaxation. I think this is far too early and that there’s a real risk of another surge here before any kind of herd immunity is achieved. I hope I’m proved wrong. At least it doesn’t look likely to get as bad as India, where the pandemic is truly out of control.

Workwise we have just completed the penultimate teaching week of Semester 2. Monday is a Bank Holiday so we have four days of teaching left, before a Study Week and the start of examinations. The last week will be busy with assessments and other things, though I imagine most lecturers will be doing revision rather than presenting a lot of new material. In the last few classes. That’s what I plan to do anyway.

Examinations Online Timed Assessment start on 14th May. I have three to supervise and then mark so much of the rest of May will be taken up with that, which has to be done before the Examination Boards in June. After that I suppose we’ll find out what our Lords and Masters have in mind for the start of next academic year…

Mayday!

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , , on May 1, 2020 by telescoper

Today, 1st May, Beltane (Bealtaine in Irish) is an old Celtic festival that marks the mid-point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It’s one of the so-called Cross-Quarter Days that lie exactly halfway between the equinoxes and solstices. These ancient festivals have been moved so that they take place earlier in the modern calendar than the astronomical events that represent their origin: the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice is actually next week…

Anyway, let me offer a hearty ‘Lá Bealtaine sona daoibh‘!

Today is also the day that the Irish Government decides whether to extend the restrictions arising from the Covid-19 outbreak due to end on May 5th (May 4th is a Bank Holiday). All the signs are that they will and indeed that they should.

We are told that the decision will be based on five measures.

The ‘criteria’ being quoted are:

  1. the progress of the disease;
  2. healthcare capacity & resilience;
  3. testing & contact tracing capacity;
  4. ability to shield & care for at-risk groups;
  5. the risk of secondary morbidity & mortality due to the restrictions themselves.

These aren’t really criteria of course as they don’t set a standard by which performance will be measured. My own amateurish attempts to keep track of the data show that while new cases are falling slowly (the value of the R-number is in the range 0.5-0.8) the rate of deaths remains roughly constant:

If you look at the world data on Covid-19 you will see that it’s a global phenomenon that the timescale for the spread to decrease is much longer than that for the initial increase. That means that loosening control too early will simply precipitate another rapid spread which in turn will require another lengthy lockdown.

The rate of hospital and ICU admissions is not falling significantly either. This may be because over the past weeks an increasing number of infections have occurred in care homes among elderly patients who are much more vulnerable to serious illness than the general population.

I can’t see any evidence from this that would support an argument for starting to end the lockdown anytime soon, and that’s before considering the other points. Testing, for example, is definitely not yet up to speed.

When it first started I told my colleagues that it wouldn’t start to unwind until June and I’m sticking with that.

It’s worrying though that there are signs that some individuals are taking it upon themselves to relax the restrictions. There is definitely more traffic (both vehicular and pedestrian) than there was a few weeks ago here in Maynooth. The question arises that if the lockdown is extended will it just become less effective as more people flout it? I think if it is going to be extended the Gardaí will have to get much tougher.

Although I’m very worried by the prospect of things dragging on I do at least get the impression that the Irish Government is doing its best not only to deal with Covid-19 but also to be honest about the situation, to the extent of owning up to its failures. The situation is very different on the other side of the Irish Sea, where the daily UK Government briefings are transparent only in their abject dishonesty.

UPDATE: to nobody’s great surprise the current restrictions will stay in place until 18th May, after which there will be a phased relaxation. For more details see here.