So my dear friend Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (pictured left, trying to dig his way out of trouble) and his cronies have decided to put the country on full lockdown, with almost total restriction on movement for the next two weeks. Their motives are, superficially at least, to contain the further spread of the corona virus. But is this the correct course of action?
I’ve been saying for weeks that the best model to follow is that of Korea, who have managed to control the spread without such severe restrictions. Through careful monitoring, contact tracing, and data sharing, they now have more people recovered from the virus than active cases, and the number of people currently with the virus has been dropping steadily for the last two weeks. Sure, there had been criticism of the contact tracing being highly intrusive, and measures must be taken to make sure that this invasion of privacy does not continue beyond the crisis period of the outbreak. But it has paid dividends. While other countries have panicked, Korea has dealt with the virus effectively, and are well on the road to recovery.
But our dear Leo has decided to stifle movement almost completely. This has been attempted in Spain and Italy, yet sadly they remain the two most crisis-stricken countries outside of the US. So pure restriction of movement has not proven to be effective. Maybe it will work here, because I will concede that our acting government did act more quickly than most in deciding to shut schools and universities, and introduce other containment measures just over two weeks ago.
But there is another reason for bringing this in. Earlier yesterday, Leo revealed concerns that Ireland may not have enough ICU beds in the coming days as the number of infections increase. He’s not wrong there. So a few hours later he announced the shutdown. I’m sure people will continue to laud him for being decisive, but is there an ulterior motive here? Is he just covering his tracks?
The lack of ICU beds, and the poorly-serviced public hospitals in general, is a legacy of the Irish Tories’ government. They have squandered Department of Health resources, and not acted on the advice of ICU staff. A report published in 2018 highlighted the glaring inadequacies of the ICUs in our hospitals, yet here we are in 2020 dealing with a pandemic and the hospitals are still underfunded, understaffed, and under-equipped.
Panic and self-preservation are Leo’s motivations. He wants his legacy to be that of the man who led the country through the crisis, and not have it expose the shocking inadequacies resulting from nine years of his party’s neoliberal agenda.
So rather than following the most efficient and sensible course of action, as demonstrated by Korea, he is gambling on his lockdown saving his skin. Let’s see where the next couple of weeks take us.