The Irish Times view on the coronavirus crisis: important and necessary steps
The contrast between the approach being taken by the Government and the random and contradictory approach in the US under president Trump is striking
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Blair House, Washington, where he announced that all schools, colleges and childcare facilities in the State will close until March 29th as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Government’s new national coronavirus strategy is a necessary response to the virus, based on clear scientific advice to the National Public Health Emergency Team. The recommendations mark an important transition and an intensification of our response to what the World Health Organisation (WHO) is now calling a pandemic.
We have entered the “delay phase” of curbing the spread – an acknowledgment, as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Thursday, that although “the virus is all over the world” and “will continue to spread … it can be slowed”. That can only be achieved by a massive collective effort, however. “Acting together as a nation,” the Taoiseach insisted, “we can save many lives.”
Despite some assertions to the contrary, the nation has not been “locked down”. The measures are voluntary, “strong recommendations”, whether the curtailing of mass meetings, closing of schools, remote-working, or individual social distancing. And they will succeed only if the community embraces them, as it should, in the spirit of a common endeavour and sacrifice whose most basic, and probably most important, element remains the most simple and personal act of hand washing. We face the Covid-19 challenge together.
There remain gaps in the advice. We are promised that ministers will fill these in sector-by-sector. Among the most immediate concerns is the task of social distancing on public transport, which must continue to function. Special measures to allow health workers to continue to work will be needed. Testing will have to be stepped up. And mitigating the economic costs to business and workers across many sectors will be crucial.
The contrast between the approach being taken by the Government, the ratcheting up of measures on the basis of medical advice from our own health experts in step with both the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the WHO, and the alarmingly random and contradictory approach in the US under president Trump is striking.
Even as he was at last describing coronavirus as a “horrible infection”, he also spoke of a “foreign virus”, and – contrary to all the expert warnings of an escalating crisis – insisting it would soon go away and that a vaccine would soon be available. The president then imposed a ban on travel to the US from 26 European countries inside the Schengen passport-free travel zone which will do little if anything to curb the spread of a disease already rife in the US.
If we understand anything now about what Varadkar has called the “uncharted territory” of combating pandemics, it is that the huge task involved in doing so is as much a social and political one, galvanising trust and community spirit, asit is a medical one.