The NPHET recommendation that we move to Level 5 restrictions is the result of months of government failures on Covid-19. They caved to business interests and prematurely lifted restrictions. They allowed the second wave to be seeded by failing to keep meat plant workers safe. They failed to invest in a permanent mass testing infrastructure that could help to test and trace every case. They packed students into overcrowded classrooms and left teachers and parents to fend for themselves. Even now, as hospitalisations begin to rise once again, they refuse to take the necessary action to keep people safe.
The government’s “Living With Covid” strategy is doomed to failure. It will mean we must go repeatedly in and out of lockdown in order to prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. It means many deaths spread out over a long period of time. It means many more people will suffer the effects of Long Covid – long term health effects such as damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain, as well as fatigue, a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, aching joints and “brain fog”. It will mean prolonging this ordeal and compounding the existing mental health crisis.
The “Let It Rip” approach the far right are calling for would be even worse. It would almost certainly mean our hospitals would be overwhelmed by the number of admissions to hospitals and ICU. It would mean forcing doctors to make decisions about who gets a ventilator, as happened in Italy at the beginning of the crisis. And there is no guarantee we would even have herd immunity by the end of this death drive – countries like Brazil and Sweden that followed this strategy still show no signs of herd immunity, and cases in these countries are beginning to rise once again.
So what’s the alternative?
A Zero Covid policy is the only strategy that provides a way out. It does not mean we reach absolute zero in terms of cases. It means crushing the virus to the point where we can test, trace and isolate every single case that arises, stopping the spread of the virus.
Both the Mícheál Martin’s government and the Northern Executive want to present this strategy as pie in the sky. But the reality is that Australia, China, New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam have all managed to achieve Zero Covid and are now largely living without restrictions.
How could we achieve Zero Covid in Ireland?
We need to implement the Level 5 restrictions recommended by NPHET, but this will not be enough. People must be supported through this pandemic. We need a total restoration of the PUP, more support for small businesses, and a massive increase in funding for mental health support.
With these measures in place, we can then focus on eliminating Covid-19. To do this we need:
- Massive investment to a permanent public testing infrastructure. Test times to be reduced to 24 hours.
- Unannounced workplace inspections. Workplaces who put workers at risk to be closed down and fined.
- Private hospitals to be brought into public ownership. More health workers to be hired on full time, permanent contracts. Pay increases and hazard pay for frontline workers.
- More teachers to be hired, classroom space to be created and genuine protections for teachers and students. If schools cannot be kept safe, they must be closed until the virus is crushed.
- An end to direct provision. Safe own door accommodation to be found for asylum seekers and those living in emergency accommodation.
- A ban on non-essential travel and anyone who is travelling into Ireland to be tested. Once the virus is crushed, we can add more test capacity at airports and open travel up to countries that have low case numbers.
- An All Ireland strategy that harmonises public health measures, testing systems and health systems across the 32 counties.
We could have eliminated this virus if Varadkar and the Northern Executive had not lifted restrictions too early back in June. We have now faced a major setback. Models predict that we could eliminate the virus by December or January if we implement a Zero Covid policy. Failure to do so will mean having to endure this virus indefinitely – certainly well into 2021 and probably 2022 as well.
Zero Covid is the light at the end of the tunnel.