“In a couple of years’ time, when we look back, I think we, as a nation, will be very proud of how we coped with the Covid pandemic.”
So believes Dr Adrian McGoldrick, GP and former Turf Club chief medical officer, who remains very much involved with racing, but during the current crisis is concentrating on dealing with his own patients in his practice in Kildare.
“We’ll acknowledge we didn’t do everything right — you can’t do everything right — but we can look back and say we did most things right. And we can thank the Government, the public health service, and the population.
“I watched CNN and the BBC the other night and when you look at what’s happening in this country compared to those, there’s no comparison. It’s chalk and cheese. The Irish population has done what has been advised by health service and by the Government.”
From the first lab-confirmed case of the coronavirus outside of China being reported on January 13, the speed of the virus’s spread has caught the world by surprise. On January 30 it was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern; on February 11, it was named Covid-19, and on March 11 it was characterised a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.
Until that point, the world tried to continue as close to normal as it could, but a sudden shift in the pace of the spread of the virus necessitated major changes.
There had been pre-planning from the Government and the health service, but Dr McGoldrick recalls the time the severity of the situation changed in Ireland.
“Between the Saturday before Cheltenham and the Tuesday of the meeting, there was a profound change in our knowledge of what was happening,” he explained.
It happened that quickly. I know people give out saying no-one should have gone to Cheltenham, that they had enough knowledge of what was happening, and some had been advised not to travel, but it really was an evolving situation.
“For us, as GPs, the guidelines we’ve been given have been re-tweaked five times. And each tweak was correct.
“From my own point of view, as a GP, the medical support from the health service has been second to none. It’s amazing what can happen in a few weeks. Whereas three or four weeks ago, we could be on the phone for maybe two and a half hours trying to get referrals for patients, that’s gone. It’s all done electronically now, and the referrals are almost instantaneous.
“We do a lot of our work over the phone now too and we can issue prescriptions and do a lot more electronically. Ironically, you would miss the face-to-face with patients because that’s how we’ve been doing it for 40 years, but we’ve had to adapt too.
“We can look back in retrospect and say we should have done things differently, and that Cheltenham and other mass gatherings shouldn’t have gone ahead, but none of us expected the tsunami that came. In the space of three or four days, it became very obvious we were heading into something very serious.
“People ask why we didn’t stop Italian tourists coming in for the game (Ireland v Italy, Six Nations rugby, due to take place March 7) but on what grounds? If it were now, we might have cocooned them in the airport and turned them around. But hindsight is easy.
“Maybe at the start, we were wrong to do open testing, and we had to pull back on that, but when people look back on the history of this, it will say we got a lot right.”
Like most of us who have been involved in horse racing for as long as we care to remember, Dr McGoldrick looks forward to the day we can once more set foot on a racecourse, but there are more bridges to be crossed before that day arrives.
“The next step will be antibody testing of the population. Basically, if you are antibody positive that means you have immunity and you will get the go-ahead to go back to work. That will be very much part of the gradual return.
“Tony Holohan (chief medical officer at the Department of Health) and his team have been monitoring the curve and advising the population what to do. They have been doing a remarkable job, and we’re just following in behind.
“The Government is controlling it and, to use terminology we’ve become used to hearing, what measures have been taken are ‘flattening the curve’.
“When we look at the grave warnings we were getting earlier on, which were based on what was going on in other countries, we managed to contain it dramatically.
“Everybody in the country has done exactly what the public health and the HSE have asked.
“I’m sure there will be no sport until they get the okay from the medics but, as a doctor, I’m very proud of how everyone has adapted to deal with the pandemic.
“It has been remarkable.”