Thursday, March 19, 2020


There is only one issue to write about this week. The Coronavirus is dominating the news agenda and conversations in homes, among those at work, on social media and in every other way human beings communicate. It’s all about Covid-19 – Coronavirus. So what can I write about it that hasn’t already been written? Not a lot probably. But that never stopped me before.
To begin let me say that we need to follow the science. We need to take the advice of the experts and ignore all rumours and unverified information. We can stop the virus from spreading or minimise the spread by washing our hands properly and often and by minimising our close contact with other human beings. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get into the fresh air or take a good walk. It doesn’t mean we cut ourselves off completely from everyone else. Unless we have the virus of course or unless we have had contact with someone who has it.
We also need to stay calm. It’s easy to get stressed especially because of the wall to wall coverage. So try to avoid any news coverage or conversations which make us anxious. Don’t spread the anxiety. Try to help neighbours and friends. Show solidarity.
All this will pass. If we take proper and appropriate precautions we will minimise its effects. We as a species will survive it. Of that there is no doubt.
Decisive leadership will enhance and maximise our ability to do this.
How governments in Europe, in London, Dublin and the USA are responding to this health crisis has become a source of great controversy. In the North the decision of the First Minister and of the Ministers of Health and Education not to close schools, colleges, universities and public buildings in line with the South caused considerable outrage. Their stance mirrored that of the Johnson government in London. It’s so-called ‘herd immunity’ strategy has been widely criticised
The British approach is at odds with that taken by the Irish government, by Italy, France, Spain, Germany and others. They have taken initiatives to restrict movement, increase testing, while encouraging citizens to stay at home and adopt a more rigorous hygiene regime.
It makes sense for the two governments on the island of Ireland with responsibility for the health and welfare of citizens to co-operate in erecting barriers to the spread of the virus, including a lock-down of institutions and public places; facilitate testing; co-ordinate medical resources and so on. This is not, as some have spuriously claimed, about the promotion of a uniting Ireland agenda – it is about recognising the interconnected nature of our two jurisdictions, the overlap between communities and the fact that we live together on a small island.
All of this is very important and necessary. So is positivity. Social media images of citizens in Italy and Spain standing on their balconies singing and applauding each other is evidence that in the midst of a human crisis people have the courage and spirit to rise above the fear and uncertainty. We also should appreciate our health workers. They are the heroes and heroines of this time, of all time. Compassion, caring, a willingness to help others is a fundamental part of who we are as human beings. It takes real courage who risk contamination by working closely with those who are afflicted with this virus. We have a lot to be thankful for. If we learn anything at all it must be the need for a properly funded and fully resourced public health service.
We should also be grateful that we are not as badly off as others who are confronted by disease in other parts of the world.
Every year hundreds of thousands of men, women and children die from treatable and preventable diseases. In 2017 one and a half million people died from diarrheal diseases globally. One third – over half a million – were children. In our own place at this time a huge emphasis is being placed on the simple act of handwashing. The World Health Organisation says that handwashing with soap and decent water would have led to a significant risk reduction of 65%. Hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved by soap and clean water. But for these human beings there is no soap. There is no water of a decent quality. Why not?
Every day over twenty thousand people die from hunger and three thousand die from preventable malaria. Why?
Last week a shipwreck off the coast of Libya brought the known death toll among migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to twenty thousand since 2014. It is likely that many more have drowned without their deaths being known. According to the International Organisation on Migration, “two-thirds of the fatalities we have recorded are people lost at sea without a trace”.
These are just some of the human crises, along with climate change and war and natural disasters which continue to take the lives of people every day across the world. These global crises demand a global response. So, it is important as we meet the challenge of Covid-19 that we do not forget those others who are less fortunate that us.

No comments: