Fintan O’Toole: None of us is safe from virus unless all of us are safe

Covid-19 has shaken us out of complacent delusion that health is a private concern

The Government has agreed an aid package of some €3bn to deal with the public health and economic impact of coronavirus.

Across the road from my house, there is a block of slightly taller buildings. The extra storey was for people living over the shops below: a butcher, a grocer, a hairdresser. But the house that directly faces me has an extra layer on top of that again. It now looks super-cool. The unit has been converted into expensive flats and this eyrie has a curved glass front giving on to a balcony with, I imagine, lovely views across the city to the mountains.

It wasn’t just coughs and sneezes that spread diseases – it was poverty and squalor

When we moved in 30 years ago, this top floor was starker, less sophisticated. The glass panes formed a translucent wall through which the sun must have flooded. It could have been an artist’s studio. Except everyone knew it wasn’t. It was a TB room. When the block was built in the early 1930s, this was the best you could do for someone (a relatively privileged someone) with tuberculosis: isolate them so the rest of the family didn’t get the disease and expose them to the healing properties of sunlight. That family was gone and I never knew what happened to the patient. The curse of TB was long banished. But I still didn’t need to be told what that glass-fronted crow’s nest signified.

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