Covid-19 and overseas holidays

 

A chara, Dr Jack Lambert has really served to polarise the debate about foreign travel in his piece “Telling people not to travel overseas on holiday is wrong-headed” (Opinion & Analysis, July 7th).

Judging by the comments in your online edition, I’m afraid we’re developing a left versus right divide on the foreign holiday travel question. The right is arguing for travel on the grounds of freedom of choice, personal responsibility, mental health, and the need for the economy to restart.

The left is arguing on the grounds of the precautionary principle, community responsibilities, and holding out the hope of eliminating the virus in Ireland completely.

Older people, who might otherwise be in the right-wing camp, are siding with the left on this occasion. Public-sector workers, whose livelihoods are less at risk, also tend to the more left-wing view.

The argument is couched in terms of individualism versus collectivism, personal freedom against social responsibility, and full economic recovery versus care for the elderly and public health.

But it’s also about how you perceive risk.

Of course, as Dr Lambert argues, the chances are that an individual family going on their holidays abroad, observing all the precautions, will not contract or spread the virus. But how many will do so in the alcoholic haze that often accompanies a sunshine holiday?

If hundreds of thousands of people flock to their sunshine holiday destinations as usual, it only takes a 1 per cent chance of them contracting the disease for thousands of new infections to be imported into Ireland.

This isn’t about individuals acting responsibly, but about the cumulative effects of mass changes in social behaviour.

The risk of infection increases exponentially the larger the crowd. With large numbers, even small risks can have significant consequences at a societal level.

Those who are most concerned about restarting the Irish economy should be the first to advocate for a holiday at home.

We may be on the cusp of eliminating the virus in Ireland completely. Let’s finish the job of eliminating the virus here and then all discussion of freedoms within Ireland will become moot. – Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER,

Blessington,

Co Wicklow.