I listened with dismay at the announcement on July 9th that travel to and from Italy, Spain and England would be permitted. A decision rightly described as madness by a health official from the Republic.
We as an island and as a people have managed to mitigate the worst effects of Coronavirus because we shut down sooner than England and adhered admirably to the stay at home message. However, all our efforts are in danger of being undone if we unlock air routes to countries where the virus is still prevalent in high numbers.
There is real concern in the Republic of Ireland that foreign travel will lead to a second wave of the virus. In fact the health minister for the South said that in the last few months two percent of new cases came from international travel. I believe we should follow the example of the Republic and only allow travel to listed green zone countries who have the same disease status or similar to Ireland. And the list of countries should also be reviewed every few weeks. We are an island and that gives us a great advantage but an all-island approach is essential.
The key question that deserves an answer is whether the science is influencing the politics/economics or is the latter influencing the science? Putting economics before people’s health is foolish and short-sighted. Getting back to normal requires an approach which sets out to suppress and eradicate the virus, to avoid an endless cycle of going in and out of lockdown. The assembly’s message in the vital stages of Covid 19 was clear and in general people responded very well. However at this pivotal moment there needs to be clarity on the strategy moving forward. More than 1,000 scientists world-wide have now urged countries to push for total supression of the virus rather than opting, as England has “for an acceptable level of risk”. Failure to heed this advice could have serious consequences for us all.
We should seek now to follow Scotland’s lead. Their main aim is to drive the virus to the margins. They, unlike the North, have had the benefit of excellent, consistent medical advice from Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of Global Health at Edinburgh University.
Our nationalist politicians now need to look outwards and take note of the warnings from world experts regarding opening air routes to countries who have much higher rates of infection than Ireland. But action needs to be taken swift and immediate. Failure to do so risks undoing all we have gained. Short-sighted approaches will hamper economic growth and restrict social freedoms.
Our nationalist leaders must step up to the plate and oppose those who seek to politicise the virus, ie unionists who appear so wedded to the Union that they slavishly follow England’s medical strategy which risks the health of Irish citizens living in the North. Mandatory wearing of face masks in enclosed spaces, launching an app regarding track and trace, and taking on all-Ireland approach to borders regarding air routes should have been put in place already. It is now a matter of urgency or we are, as Professor Devi Sridhar says, in danger of “adopting a muddled approach of trying to keep all the balls in the air and dropping them all”.
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