COUNTY CARLOW, Ireland – Two weeks ago on Sunday my wife and I joined four friends for a birthday dinner, forming what was then the maximum legally allowed party size, six.
An opportunity to forget about the coronavirus for a few hours turned into anything but when one of our host’s children walked into the room where we were eating and told us they had heard on TikTok that the country was moving to “Level five”.
We all got it.
It was quickly established that the Irish national public health emergency team, NPHET, had written to the government, urging a move from the then current patchwork of ‘level two’ and ‘level three’ restrictions to a very strict lockdown of “Level five” across the country.
At levels two and three of the government’s five-level plan to ‘live with COVID’, which was launched last month, something that looks like normal life in Ireland is pretty much possible.
Level five, on the other hand, is essentially a total lockdown with restaurants (and our famous pubs) open only to take out; non-essential stores closed; hairdressers and salons closed; all social visits prohibited; weddings and funerals limited to 25 guests and those prohibited from traveling more than 3 miles from their homes.
The next day, Monday, the Irish government did something extraordinary; he rejected the opinion of NPHET. He said the whole country would upgrade to level three instead.
Deputy Leader of Ireland, tanaist Leo Varadkar, went on the radio and publicly berated the NPHET members. Varadkar said they were officials who had no idea what it was like to be faced with unemployment or having to “close a business for the last time”.
Varadkar added: “I’m not talking about the economy, I’m talking about something that could have happened to half a million human beings tomorrow and the reason politicians are making these decisions is that we are the ones who can. see the bigger one. picture.
“It’s not just about a virus and statistics around a virus. It is not a death rate. It’s about real people and how it impacts so many different people and so many different communities, in so many different ways.
Exactly two weeks after Varadkar took up his defiant stance, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin stood on the steps of government buildings on Monday evening and made a stunning U-turn.
A grim-faced Martin announced that the entire country would indeed move to level five restrictions starting at midnight Wednesday, after infections among Ireland’s 5 million rose to more than 1,000 a day. The government expects some 200,000 people to lose their jobs. The only flaw is that the schools remain open, for the moment.
A key factor in the government’s decision was that NPHET said a six-week lockdown would remove the virus up to 50 cases a day by December, allowing it to reopen in time for Christmas.
Martin sought to tap into the national obsession with Christmas in his televised speech, saying, “Every Christmas is important, but this year it is especially so. Each of us has our own Christmas rituals, and they will take on an even more poignant dimension this year as we remember those who did not survive 2020. Not only those who were swept away by the virus, but all of us as well. those who are deceased. year and I haven’t had the vigils, funerals and farewells that we as a people are so good and deserve.
“It won’t be the same Christmas we’ve enjoyed over the past few years, but if we all come together and follow the spirit of these new rules, it will be a very special time and give us all a bit of a break from the hardships. of the last seven months.
The resurgence of the virus shocked many Irish people, who congratulated themselves this summer after daily cases fell to their 20s.
However, the reality is that Ireland is simply part of a vast new wave of coronaviruses sweeping through Europe.
And as the Irish now live with the world’s toughest official national restrictions, it seems inevitable that much of the rest of Europe will follow.
Indeed, many European countries, including Spain, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Luxembourg all have a cumulative 14 day count of COVID cases. -19 per 100,000, one of the ECDC’s preferred metrics, over Ireland. figure of 253. Many of these countries already have severe lockdowns and regional or city-specific curfews.
America is unlikely to be spared a second wave either; the state of Arizona, for example, has 7.2 million people compared to 4.9 million in Ireland and has a similar number of cases of around 1,000 per day, and Arizona’s number is on an upward trajectory.
As Martin tried to keep the Christmas promise, he also admitted in his speech that the country was indeed ready for a cycle of yo-yo lockdowns.
He rejected the goals of zero COVID and herd immunity, saying instead: “We are working to suppress the virus when it grows, and we are working to reopen our society and our economy as much as possible when it is safe to do so. do it. Until we have a safe vaccine, we must continue on this path. “
It is a deeply depressing message. This is also the truth, and not just for Ireland.
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