Outgoing Irish a sitting duck for Covid

Country in limbo as lockdown strategy comes unstuck

People drink at outside tables on a busy Grafton Street in Dublin on October 21st,  as Ireland prepares to enter a second national lockdown to stem the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

People drink at outside tables on a busy Grafton Street in Dublin on October 21st, as Ireland prepares to enter a second national lockdown to stem the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

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Implicit from the get-go, or so we thought, was a one-stop lockdown. A State-wide circuit break to disrupt the chain of transmission and preserve the capacity of the health system.

Back in April, we took the painful medicine of lockdown on the proviso that it would lead to a gradual opening up and a resumption of normal activity. We certainly didn’t envisage a rolling series of lockdowns.

The State’s top health officials, including chief medical officer Tony Holohan, appeared to discount the possibility of a second lockdown. Economic modelling gauged the impact of one lockdown, of varying length, but not two.

Of course, there were voices saying it wouldn’t work, that the virus would come back, that a second wave was inevitable, but the country bought into the idea of a one-stop shop.

So the Government and its health team got it wrong. They underestimated the resilience of the virus and the impact of opening back up. It’s the been same in other countries. Most of Europe is having the same conversation.

Contact tracing debacle

It’s clear from the recent contact tracing debacle here that the hiatus between the first wave and second wave was not used wisely: time that should have been used to strengthen health service capacity and develop a competent test and trace system has been squandered.

The highly infectious nature of the virus and the ease with which it has got a second foothold in the country with the toughest restrictions poses two significant questions.

First, have the restrictions been worthwhile? But also, if we had the best test and trace system, would we have been able to prevent or contain this second outbreak? People opposing the current restrictions assume the Covid fire can be put out by a more sophisticated, beefed-up testing infrastructure, but this is by no means assured.

Maybe Ireland’s younger population and overtly social dynamic is the driving force here, the thing that won’t be tamed or corralled by Government measures or mass testing, the thing that we’re going to keep running up against no matter what the policy.

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