Responding to the coronavirus outbreak

Sir, – Now that the coronavirus has finally landed on this island, the more virulent strain “rumour of coronavirus” seems to spread even faster. Not only is it contactable by standing within earshot of any person, it spreads very quickly on social media.

Plugging your ears and logging off seem to be the only known deterrent. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 3.

Sir, – “It is our job to provide information that is in the public interest: it is not our job to provide information the public is interested in. That is a different test”.

So said Minister for Health Simon Harris on Monday when justifying the deeply flawed judgment of the Government in concealing the location of what became euphemistically known “as a school on the east coast” closed as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

It is this type of arrogance, political paternalism, poor judgment and lack of insight that is at the root of Fine Gael’s calamitous general election defeat. It is also symptomatic of a continuing peculiar obsession with news management. Clearly, no lessons have been learned.

The name and Dublin location of the school, as was inevitable, is now widely known. It is in the public interest that it be known.

Obtaining such information cannot be credibly depicted as a matter of mere prurient interest. The general public are entitled to know which school closed and the background to the closure.

Our freedom-of-information legislation exists to ensure public access to important information members of the public, including journalists, are genuinely interested in. It is not for governments or politicians to act as censors.

It is extraordinary that well-intended sections of the media got duped into believing that responsible journalism required newspapers and broadcasters collaborate with this nonsensical censorship.

Revealing the school’s name or location has no relevance to national security nor violates the right to confidentiality of any patient.

If a patient in hospital, not isolated, some days after admission for an unrelated condition, is diagnosed as having contracted the coronavirus, no valid justification could be given for concealing the name and location of the hospital.

Not revealing the patient’s identity and preserving patient confidentiality is an entirely different and important separate issue.

Access to information of public interest relating to health issues and the workings of government is what differentiates Ireland from China and Iran. It is what differentiates our democracy from elitist authoritarian autocracies.

Blurring those differences is not in the public interest.

In addressing genuine public concern about the coronavirus truth, openness, information and transparency is essential as is ensuring a comprehensive and competent healthcare response in which the public can have full confidence. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – I agree with Aedín Gormley (Letters, March 3rd) about spitting in public. When this disgusting habit become acceptable again?

As a child in the mid-1950s, I remember the sign in the local dispensary (health centre) which stated, “No Spitting, No Smoking”. That was in the era of the TB epidemic in Ireland which killed thousands of people in Ireland every year for years. In the 21st century it seems odd that we need to return to a public health message of 60-plus years ago. It reminds us that the simple public health measures related to basic hygiene remain as important as ever. – Yours, etc,



Co Meath.

Sir, – If an employee needs to self-isolate for 14 days, how can they claim statutory sick leave entitlements and payments if they are instructed not to attend GP clinics?

Ibec and the unions need to work with Government to ensure that employees are not forced to break self-isolation guidelines in order to obtain medical certificates to secure payment. Leadership and courage are called for here, and our politicians and institutions need to step up to ensure life on our island remains as normal as possible whilst also taking tough decisions to keep our people safe. – Is mise,


Dublin 17.

Sir, – Prof John Oxford is recognised as one of the world’s experts in viral infections and on RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke’s show he strongly recommended that St Patrick’s Day events for this year should be cancelled.

As he said, “with infection you cannot sit around and take chances while keeping your fingers crossed”.

The Government should heed him well and immediately cancel this year’s St Patrick Day events. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.