The Government has advised that public transport should be avoided “where possible”, which raises the curious suggestion that hordes of people are prone to taking bus, train and tram journeys in the middle of a pandemic just for fun, and not because that’s their only means of making a necessary trip.
The vague advice recalls an infuriating Irish Rail campaign from 2019 that sought to educate commuters about the phenomenon of trains being quieter outside rush hour, as if passengers were simply crowding into carriages at peak times for the thrill of it.
For Dublin city centre business group Dublin Town, the remarks, combined with the instruction for office workers to stay at home, were unhelpful, especially as they came with little explanation of the perceived risk of taking public transport or its role in the transmission of Covid-19.
“City footfall is struggling and this announcement is likely to depress it further,” the group, which represents 2,500 businesses, said in the hours after the Government’s muddled Tuesday news conference.
“The city’s business community would like to know to what extent has a link between public transport use and the spread of the virus been established, particularly given the widespread compliance with the wearing of face masks.”
Dublin Town chief executive Richard Guiney was blunt in his conclusion: many businesses in Dublin's hollowed-out city centre are on the verge of permanent closure, and for some, a decision to shut down will have been hastened by the Government's words.
If this is the price of controlling the virus, then fair enough, some might argue. But it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that politicians haven’t joined the dots between public transport advice and retailers’ survival because they do not themselves travel that way to go shopping, or indeed use public transport to do anything besides indulge in the occasional photo opportunity.
Nothing is stopping anybody from going on a staycation, Taoiseach Micheál Martin insisted at one point on Tuesday, again failing to consider that for some people this trip might require a frustrated, protracted experience with the Republic’s poor excuse for a public transport network – the very network we are supposed to avoid. Car owners, meanwhile, are being given a clear signal to clog the roads and ruin the environment . . . in the name of public health.