Over the last number of weeks with the easing of restrictions, the rate of transmission for Covid-19 has risen across the island of Ireland. In the North it is estimated at between .5 and 1 while in the South the R number is now between 1.4 and 1.8. An R number of 1 would mean the number of cases of Covid-19 is no longer reducing, and anything above this would mean cases are once again rising.
With the number of daily cases of Covid-19 globally now at an all-time high, it is evident that we are by no means clear of the virus that has claimed the lives of over 2,300 people across the island of Ireland thus far.
In ignoring the advice of public health experts like Professor Gerry Killeen, who argued for the maintenance of restrictions for just a 1-2 months longer in order to eliminate the virus entirely, governments North and South are playing with fire. With the R rate in and around 1, the virus cannot be completely eliminated and we will be at constant risk of a second surge. Moreover, it is possible that if the R rate does not drop significantly below 1 again at all, there will be much greater loss of life overall – this will simply be spread out over a longer period of time.
But given that this is the approach that is being taken, there are a number of measures that must be taken if we are to avoid a second spike of the virus.
- Provide Free Masks
Masks are now mandatory on public transport across the island. However, the Southern government has put punitive measures in place to enforce the law, threatening fines of up to €2,500 or 6 months in prison for those who do not comply.
This will not prevent a spike in the price of masks, nor will it prevent a shortage. The government should instead instruct manufacturers to produce large numbers of masks for the public, which should be made available free of charge. If there are free masks and people choose not to wear them, they should not be on public transport.
- Tourism & Travel
There are widespread reports over the last week of groups of tourists arriving at restaurants and hotels around the country – tourists who have clearly not been self-isolating. Some of these tourists have come from the United States, where there are roughly 60,000 new cases of Covid-19 every day.
This is reckless behaviour by governments that are buckling to economic pressures to open up flights, whatever the risk to public health. Non-essential travel must be shut down. For those who do travel, measures must be put in place to ensure that 14-day quarantines are followed.
The re-opening of schools in September presents further challenges for the containment of Covid-19. Yet teacher-pupil ratios across the island of Ireland are still higher than the EU average. We need a major recruitment campaign for teachers and clear plans to make buildings safe – by taking control of some neighboring buildings or investment in extensions, by recruiting cleaning staff, and by changing school layouts.
The Vintners lobby are pressing for the opening of pubs even through the R rate has gone up. This poses an unacceptable health risk. In the pubs that have already opened, there needs to be proper health and safety measures put in place for staff. We need more regular inspections and those found in breach of procedures should be shut down for six months.
- Health Service
We need a major campaign to recruit more medical staff. The On Call For Ireland campaign only offered temporary contracts to health professionals. This is unacceptable – we need permanent jobs. We need to put in place more testing and tracing facilities before a second wave starts. There is now a major backlog of non-Covid cases developing in our health system. We have to regain control of the private hospitals and integrate them into a National Health Service. They cannot act as a drain on public funds buy continually receiving subsidies. The government must also make it clear how exactly it is going to supply the population with an eventual vaccine or anti-body. This will involve imposing major controls on key pharmaceutical companies that operate in Ireland.
We need details of the real time advice from NPHET so that everyone is aware of what needs to be done. We should reject the pressure from business elements to open up quick. Public health must come before profit.