Ireland and COVID-19

According to the novelist John Green, there is ‘no honour in illness’, likewise there is no honour in a poor response to one. The vastly different approaches to COVID-19 taken in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland put the entire island in danger. It is a stain on Irish politics that a failure to co-ordinate health policy on this issue threatens the efficacy of both approaches.

The Republic has followed a containment approach since the outbreak came into prominence in March. Northern Ireland followed the UK’s ‘ignore’ approach thus rendering the restrictions taken on the rest of the island redundant. Indeed, the Republic’s proactive strategy caused undue panic in the more laissez-faire Northern part of Ireland.

The Republic’s current approach is almost  a carbon copy of the measures taken regarding TB in the 1940’s. At that time provisions were made in legislation to isolate, and even forcefully isolate, TB patients. Indeed, the elimination of TB in Ireland largely came through the creation of the sanatorium.

TB and COVID are, as well publicised, vastly different diseases such that using sanatoriums for the airborne COVID-19 would be ineffective. Regardless, there is a demonstrated history of proactive health policy in the Republic. Thus the Republic will continue to tighten measures as long as the virus persists.

Thankfully, the curve has appeared to flatten in the Republic. New cases have declined from a high of 400 in late April to 20 yesterday. Government policy has worked south of the border but what about on the other side?

According to Dr. Bamford of Queen’s University Belfast, the COVID vaccine is about a year away, plenty of time for the situation to suddenly take a turn and get much worse. There are currently no available death rate figures for the North so it is impossible to gauge how many more, and it is more, people the lackadaisical UK response has killed in Northern Ireland compared to the south.

UK deaths are continuing to rise whilst the Republic’s death rate is falling so it is natural to assume Northern death rates are increasing. The people of Northern Ireland deserve better.

However, some immunologists expect another surge in new cases as the summer warms. Cases in the Republic could therefore shoot up as the North possibly has the herd immunity sought by the UK approach.

This is the best case scenario as the disease would simply ravage one part of the island though this assumes immunity to the current strand of COVID implies immunity, or at least some protection, against subsequent strains which may be wishful thinking.

It therefore seems best to assume, as some doctors already do, that it may be impossible to become immune to COVID. The landscape in a few months time could be one of skyrocketing disease contractions in the south which would increase contractions in an already strained north. Both healthcare regimes are struggling, a little more pressure could cause a collapse. It is no use allowing two states on an island the size of Ireland to follow divergent approaches to a pandemic. The people of Ireland deserve better.


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