The Irish Examiner View: Follow the science, not the bluster

The Irish Examiner View: Follow the science, not the bluster
Ryanair's Michael O'Leary

The lock down has been, and will be, a very frustrating experience. Its  acceptance by the majority of people, even if through gritted teeth, shows that Margaret Thatcher was utterly wrong when she hissed, in her feline way, that there is no such thing as society.

Solidarity, patience, understanding and no little humanity characterise our response. These instincts are the very heartbeat, the priceless holding together of society even if a minority are indifferent. Thankfully, our better angels sang loudest, hopefully they can continue to do so.

Individuals have been tested but businesses have been challenged in a way beyond the experience of nearly anyone alive. Unemployment is at a record peak; millions turn to state supports for the first time; balancing the fear of economic catastrophe and the terror of spreading the wretched virus is, until a vaccine is universally available, as unavoidable as it is unnerving.

Governments' capacity to support individuals or businesses is tested almost to destruction. Increasingly, the greatest fear comes from trying to imagine how long states' resources can meet need. "What then?" as Plato's ghost sang to Yeats in an equally grim context.

Individuals and families ultimately confront these fears in their own way. Many have done so with great forbearance despite disheartening examples from those unable to reconcile public need with personal ambitions - or temper personality with restraint. Some come from the Lord Tarzans of world business.

Two weeks ago Tesla boss Elon Musk described the  closure of his San Francisco factory as "fascist". Virgin boss and billionaire tax exile Richard Branson may not have been as strident when he sought taxpayer millions but his back-to-business-as-usual intent was the same. Amazon has sacked workers who demanded safe working conditions.

Some Irish businesses sang from the same hymn sheet albeit in a lower key. The Construction Industry Federation wanted to keep sites open despite overwhelming evidence that social distancing was not observed. Publicans, understandably but nevertheless implausibly, suggest they can reopen and observe social distancing.

It may be unsurprising but it is still sad that one of the most successful Irish businessmen of his generation joined this chorus of we-know-best bullies to try to outflank restrictions we all willingly embrace. Ryanair's Michael O'Leary's outburst - it can't be described any other way - yesterday when he told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "The reality is, we're over the peak of the virus" is an example of that self-serving drum beating.

Though he did not offer any scientific evidence he also asserted, "What's ineffective is these kind of idiotic measures like a 14-day quarantine... It's nonsense and it has no effect in limiting the spread of Covid-19."

If there is a certain déjà vu about those remarks it is because they, tragically, echo the anti-science, subversive and ignorant tirades doing so much damage to the office of the President of the United States. Ryanair plans to restore 40% of flight schedules from July 1. The airline did however concede  that these ambitions rely on governments lifting travel bans and public health measures at airports.

Like everyone they long for a return to something like normal but that happy day cannot be bullied into reality.   

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