Irish Examiner View: Hijacking one crisis to provoke another

It underlines how lethal the sickness is and the havoc it can wreak in a confined community. Even that antisocial minority still indifferent to community health obligations about self-isolation and social distancing must be moved by this tragedy to change their habits.
Irish Examiner View: Hijacking one crisis to provoke another
Protesters carry rifles near the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Picture: Associated Press

A coronavirus high water mark around now was well-flagged. However, the news that nine residents in one psychiatric centre have died since the weekend concentrates the mind.

It underlines how lethal the sickness is and the havoc it can wreak in a confined community. Even that antisocial minority still indifferent to community health obligations about self-isolation and social distancing must be moved by this tragedy to change their habits.

“Nine residents in St Fintan’s Hospital, Portlaoise, Co Laois, died over the weekend. Eight, aged between 66 and 84, had tested positive. The 17 residents still at the facility are being managed as if Covid-19 positive,” the HSE said.

That story, and the vulnerability of those living at the centre, is unambiguous. Their situation is replicated across the country. That reality is amplified by Hiqa, which reports that coronavirus has reached nearly one in three nursing homes.

Hiqa’s chief inspector of social services, Mary Dunnion, warned that staffing is a real issue. She also said that speedier testing would help.

Yesterday, the HSE said outbreaks in nursing homes had hit 155, up four in a day. Almost miraculously, the number of outbreaks in residential institutions and in community hospitals/long-stay units is unchanged, at 58 and 23, respectively. Long may this be the case.

Ms Dunnion said staff, none paid more than a hand-to-mouth wage, who have been in an environment where coronavirus has been identified must self-isolate, until their status is established.

That process would be accelerated if testing facilities were able to process samples more quickly.

“This is a pandemic. It is unprecedented, ” said Ms Dunnion. “There are going to be significant lessons.” Those lessons, as anyone with eyes to see will know by now, are not just medical.

The EU is learning, and this week, as some countries relax restrictions, published a three-point template. The first is that it must be beyond question that the spread has significantly decreased and stabilised for a decent period; second, the national health service is coping; and, third, monitoring must be appropriate to local needs.

Some time will pass before we can tick those boxes, but there is no reason to imagine that, eventually, we will not.

In the interim, reliable information is essential to solidarity. This is a fast-moving story, so statistics change. Contradictions are inevitable and different descriptions of the same situation can be fleetingly valid.

This requires exceptional faith in data sources and anything that might undermine those relationships could have disastrous consequences.

One of those consequences was seen in America on Wednesday when thousands converged on Michigan’s state house in Lansing in protest at the lockdown. Some demonstrators said they were distressed by the economic impact. Others wanted to go to the hairdressers.

Many exercised their right to carry military-grade small arms, but were deaf to the fact that just 150km away, Detroit has endured 2,000 deaths. These unhinged, medieval protests, the attacks on 5G facilities, too, show what happens when one crisis is hijacked to provoke another.

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