Irish Examiner View: Is your journey worth spreading the plague?

Irish Examiner View: Is your journey worth spreading the plague?
.  Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

As the pandemic ebbs and flows it would be unwise to pick one set of figures to shape a response. There are too many cultural variations involved to make comparisons as watertight as they must be to underpin a successful, agreed course of action. 

Yet some comparisons are so stark they cannot be ignored. The huge contrast in Covid-19 deaths between
Ireland and Norway, pretty comparable countries if not societies, is one such case. 

Norway, with a population of 5.4m, had, as of Thursday, 8,954 cases and 252 deaths. This Republic, with a population of 4.9m souls, has had 25,565 cases and 1,743 deaths. 

That comparison screams challenge. 

How has Norway navigated the pandemic so much better than we have? Why do we have seven times the number of deaths?

The culture of Janteloven, one that places the collective before the individual, is part of the answer but not a full one. Norway continues to enforce travel restrictions far beyond anything applied here. 

At the early stages of the pandemic, Norwegians who overwintered in Spain of Portugal to avoid Norway’s bitter winters were not allowed to repatriate. While the Irish partied in Cheltenham, Norway told its citizens in pandemic hotspots to stay where they were so they might not become a plague conduit. 

This clarity, this discipline is one reason for the onerous seven-to-one comparison.

American Airlines yesterday resumed its six-times-a-week service from Texas to Dublin three days after that state recorded more than 10,000 new cases, around 10 times Ireland’s highest single-day figure. 

“I will tell you, a month ago one in 10 people were testing positive. Today, it’s one in four,” Houston mayor Sylvester Turner told CBS this week.

That Anthony Fauci, the Trump-derided senior member of the White House coronavirus taskforce, reported that,
on Wednesday, America set a world record -— 60,000 — for new cases in a day must colour the welcome those American Airlines passengers will get, just as it will for those arriving on four Aer Lingus transatlantic flights landing in Dublin today. 

Dr Fauci’s warning that America’s states needed to pause reopening, as ours accelerates, adds to those concerns.

That those passengers, like all travellers arriving in Ireland by land or sea, will, at best, face rudimentary screening and — let’s be honest — nominal follow up highlights this soft underbelly in our Covid-19 war.

Just as those passengers were packing to fly to Dublin, Tokyo decided to pay nightclubs and hostess bars to close after the capital recorded 224 cases on Thursday, the highest daily tally since the pandemic began. Hong Kong closed their schools again.

A new outbreak, minuscule compared to America’s, follows weeks of normal activity as people returned to work and restaurants opened. Hong Kong started reopening schools in late May after four months of home classes. Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, yesterday warned that Italy will likely extend its state of emergency beyond July 31. 

Italy declared a six-month state of emergency at the end of January. Unfortunately, there are all too many examples of this back-to-the-future recurrence. Many of them spring from a premature return to travel norms and
inconsistent policies in neighbouring jurisdictions.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday highlighted the inconsistency around passengers arriving in the Republic from Britain. 

Travellers arriving here must self-isolate for 14 days, apart from those coming through the back door of Northern Ireland. Mr Martin said: “We have issues with the UK... It’s not just the UK; it’s international travel in general. Our current advice is against international travel off the island of Ireland because we believe it’s problematic and our public health people are saying that to us.”

Britain’s inability to even stem the pandemic’s advance justify those concerns, which may be a precursor of how a hard Brexit might change relationships across these islands.

Those concerns were reiterated by the director of the National Virus Laboratory, Cillian De Gascun, who implored people not to travel overseas this summer.

That fact that, according to acting chief medical officer Ronan Glynn, 15 of the latest 23 cases were “directly or indirectly” related to travel may, hopefully, encourage an Irish outbreak of Janteloven. 

That, of the 140 cases last week, the median age was 34 might stir a wider appreciation that a consistently unified
response is essential. 

As is so often the case, when joined up thinking goes AWOL, this saga is alive with irony. Anyone who arrives in Dublin from Texas today can drive to the West and, while enjoying one of that coastline’s wonderful pubs, face a one of 7,000 garda inspections designed to ensure social distancing rules are being observed.

 This is like checking on a horse that may be a vector for a contagious disease long after it has bolted far over the horizon.

No-one could have prevented the first wave but there is a lot we can and must do to minimise a second wave. Phoning Norway, a new level of personal responsibility, and temporarily stopping all tourist flights in or out of the country would be good first steps.

 There is hardly an alternative if our schools and pubs are to reopen in a few weeks — just as there is a growing sense that we are our own worst enemy in the Covid-19 war.

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