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Wishful thinking July 7, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Was reading a number of pieces in the media that exhibit a newfound caution about the pandemic and the reopening. Perhaps that is due to the scenes in Dublin at the weekend, perhaps due to the rising cases in a variety of places that have ‘reopened’ – one thinks of Catalonia, Australia (this from there about how a cigarette lighter was part of the process of introducing a second wave is chilling), and now Israel where comprehensive lock-downs have been reintroduced in the face of the sheer tenacious hold the virus exhibits, as well as a propensity to spread rapidly. None of this was a surprise, none of it unexpected.

Now, one will read that:

People who go to pubs and fail to keep social distancing, as witnessed in some parts of Dublin over the weekend, could force the Government to delay the full reopening of pubs on July 20th, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has warned.

And:

“As you know the full opening was to take place on July 20th … it could be delayed if they don’t behave. We will get advice from the public health officials but we are worried about it,” he said.
“Some of the scenes that we witnessed are very worrying because social distancing was not being complied with at all during a number of the inspections and the opening hours weren’t being adhered to either.”

That last is near-risible. Of course they weren’t being complied with. And in a full re-opening? At least Martin seems to grasp one essential truth:

“The only way we can get the economy back is if we keep the community transmission of the virus down. We don’t need a second wave – a second wave would be a disaster for the country in terms of the finances.”

Though a better framing would be we can’t get the society back if we don’t keep community transmission of the virus down.

And finally the last week has brought caution about international travel.

“We have to put public health first. That is the overarching issue.
“Today the Cabinet will meet and make a formal decision on travel. We had a Cabinet sub-committee on Covid on Friday. The public health advice is extremely cautious now in relation to opening up for travel.”
He said the Government is drawing up a green list of countries, which the government believes it is safe to visit, but he cited the example of how volatile the issue is as evidence by recent surges in the US and Catalonia.
“We have countries that would have made the safe list two weeks ago wouldn’t make it today so the overarching objective is to suppress the virus and keep it down. There is a fear international travel could reignite the virus.”

But perhaps his framing of the issue is deliberate – a shot across the bows of industries that are demanding reopening despite the fact that it will be the state that pays the bill for an ensuing second wave.

Mr Martin said it was vital that Ireland continues to suppress the virus as a second surge would be disastrous for the country given that it has already cost the state something in the region of €25 billion plus in terms of supports.

What is telling, though, is the manner in which the media has tended to report matters in the past month and a half. It was as if psychologically many in it seemed unable to fully appreciate the scale of what has and continues to happen and therefore had decided that simple efforts of will could somehow change matters. That this was dovetailed with business interests is perhaps no surprise either.
Take Jennifer O’Connell’s piece late last week where she clearly suggested that teachers are the equivalent of health care workers.

Teachers should be given PPE, and those who are medically vulnerable should be allowed to stay home and teach remotely.
In reality, there are lots of sectors getting on perfectly well by applying common sense to social distancing, and none of them have magical immunity either. Healthcare workers didn’t threaten to strike when they had to go to work in a place where social distancing isn’t possible – they put on their PPE and went straight into the frontline. Hairdressers strapped on their visors and masks and got enthusiastically back to work this week. Home care workers, GPs, public transport drivers, retail workers have been working throughout.

The problem with the argument, such as it is, above is that all the areas she namechecks (putting aside the sheer absurdity of comparing HCW’s with teachers or others, given the very specific nature of their role and the environments within which they work), such as hairdressers, are practising significantly altered workplace routines designed to prevent or minimise social contact. O’Connell however appears to believe that that same approach shouldn’t apply to teachers and that schools should return as normal – that after all is the import of her appeal to ‘reopen schools to all students every day’. But that’s precisely the problem. One cannot practice social distancing in that context of full reopening.

I hold no brief for teachers. I’ve seen some fantastic work in relation to contact with school children during the crisis from many, some not so fantastic work from others. Nor am I convinced by the concept of ‘blended’ teaching. Having seen that practice up close I’m not sure it functions well at primary or in some secondary level contexts. I’m keen for the creature to return to primary school. But not necessarily today or tomorrow. Six or seven weeks in the future, all being well more broadly, sounds about right. Of course this is not to ignore those for whom the current context is hugely difficult where childcare may be an impossibility. And the resources to mitigate that issue need to be in place.

But I have two problems with O’Connell’s argument. One is that it is one that weakens the rights to health and safety of all workers by leaving teachers in a worse position than the categories of workers she reverences. That none too exemplary effect played out across the economy – and it will be – is not one that I’d like to see.

The other problem is that her argument seems one that ignores the basic reality of what we are all experiencing – an unprecedented crisis. And in that sense it appears to dovetail with the point I make above re the sheer lack of ability amongst some to realise that everything is going to be different – possibly for many years to come.

Martin at least makes a solid argument that there can be no return to schools if there’s a second surge. And indeed he prioritises that former:

“To me, the two immediate priorities on the Covid side are to get our schools safely open and get as many schools fully open as possible, and that will take up a lot of effort over the next number of weeks,” he said.
“If, for example, there was to be a spike over the next number of weeks, that could jeopardise that objective.”

But perhaps we need someone in government, a Taoiseach would do, to come out and say some home truths about the situation. That everything is going to be different. That there is unlikely to be a return to the status quo ante.

That if there is a surge the constraints we are currently experiencing will likely persist and ones that have been loosened may well return. And this will happen again and again, short of significant controls on entry to this state, and/or the quashing of the virus in the community. That point about Australia and the renewed outbreak in Victoria?

[the] outbreaks have stalled the reopening of state borders, undercut plans to create travel bubbles with other countries, and forced 300,000 people back into lockdown…authorities said that people in the 10 worst-affected postal codes would be confined to their homes, except for essential travel, for the next four weeks in an effort to stop the virus’s spread. International flights have been diverted from Melbourne, a city of almost five million people, and an inquiry has been opened into breaches in quarantine protocols. Officials continued door-knocking and blitz-testing efforts, warning that if residents did not comply, the whole state of Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous, could be affected.

As noted in the IT:

Before the Victoria outbreaks, the country was recording just a handful of new cases each week, and it had begun easing restrictions with the goal of reopening the country by the end of July.

Yet just this morning we have a remarkably vague piece in the IT from Dr Jack Lambert, professor of medicine and infectious diseases, Mater and UCD School of Medicine, that argues against controlling inflows into the state…apparently in no small part on the grounds that curtailing travel abroad by the Irish on holidays amounts to damaging mental health.

Avoiding international travel whenever possible is always good advice. But to tell people to cancel their summer holidays and only take holidays in Ireland is a step too far. Will preventing travel result in us suppressing Covid-19 when we have ongoing circulation of the virus in Ireland in those who have never travelled?

But that’s not like and like, given that suppression of the virus in Ireland has been so relatively successful compared to all other European states. The piece continues by titling towards a sort of almost libertarian right argument:

Some of my colleagues have used the term “leisure holiday” to mean something that is “bad” – but “essential travel” as acceptable. It is not that simple. We all have personal freedom and with that freedom comes personal responsibility

Go on:

I need time away and a holiday myself (it’s been tough for us all) and I would do everything at all stages of my Scottish holiday to conduct “Covid prevention” safely. People are travelling, and we should be ensuring safe travel, not chastising those who wish to travel and deciding what is okay and what is not. It is the personal responsibility of every Irish citizen who chooses to travel to make sure they do so safely.

And:

So what are the consequences if we continue with lockdown and isolation? Our mental health will suffer, our economy will suffer, and our non-coronavirus-related health will suffer. We cannot afford to delay further, we must make the best decisions based on the new reality. Our airports need to reopen and scale up safely, our airlines need to restart and all of the services that support the travel industry need to restart. We need to do it cautiously, both inside and outside Ireland. So face coverings, hand-washing and social distancing when possible are the new mantra for the immediate and maybe long-term future.

But this seems a strange analysis given how the virus entered Ireland in the first place. And again as with the examples quoted above it seems oddly blind to the realities of the virus and a pandemic. Simply put there are things that are now luxuries, possibly not to be returned to for quite some time. And it seems a doubly bizarre analysis, particularly in relation to the economy and the urgings that things ‘restart’ given the very latest examples of states going back into shutdown due to increasing cases. It appears that ‘living with the virus’ and trying to achieve a normality doesn’t actually work.

The constraints of the past three months and the gains won have been hard fought and can, as evidenced by Australia, be lost again all too rapidly. Loosening restrictions is justifiable and necessary but at a pace that matches the medical advice.

There’s a piece in the IT entitled ‘how can rural towns recover after Covid-19’. We’re nowhere near ‘after’ yet. That’s a message that needs to be stated again and again.

Comments»

1. sonofstan - July 7, 2020

Agree with all of that.

There’s an ‘it’ll be over by Christmas’ echo to all of this, a belief that somehow this is a short interruption in normal service and we will get back to work, and social life as before, sometime soon.
We won’t, of course, and anyone whose job has some connection to long term sectoral planning will know this – as I expect does everyone writing all those buzz-y pieces you refer to. Or perhaps they don’t.

I suspect those of us on the left, with a lifetime of waiting for the revolution, and a similar timescale of disappointment, may be better psychologically adapted to this situation than short-termist entrepreneurial heroes of capitalism or electoralist politicians.

I used to think, once, that the likes of Johnson couldn’t possibly be as stupid as they seem, but I’m beginning to think that what you see matches what you get – intelligence of a kind, directed entirely towards personal advancement and the bon mot – or in Trump’s case, less even than that last bit. And the likes of Starmer are no better: again, no vision, just tactics. They simply can’t conceive of what this will do to the ‘economy’ – which they confuse for society – never mind what it will do to real life, for which they have largely substituted metrics as an alternative to thought.

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WorldbyStorm - July 7, 2020

Their intelligence is a puzzle. They’re not really fit for purpose, almost just campaigners, or as you say tactics. Faced with incredible crises they have no authority. I thought it telling how yesterday’s comments by Johnson on care homes were just beyond inept. Whatever his intention, the fact it could be read in the way people naturally did… idiotic. Starmer is a different kettle of fish. There’s a lot I’d recognise of the old 1980s, late 1980s, BLP caution in there, ‘don’t rock the boat…we’re getting there.’ Problem being as you implicitly point out as with Blair by the time they arrive they don’t actually much care about the destination.

Re the crisis. Completely agree re the left that there’s a better sense of the protean nature of things. I’m genuinely baffled by people who seem to find this pandemic beyond comprehension. We’ve lived in fairly tumultuous times, but the generation before us and that again lived in much more tumultuous times where global events reached in in a more pervasive fashion. That seems to have been forgotten in a sort delusion of an ‘endless now’, a sort of Fukuyama end of history approach writ large (and small).

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sonofstan - July 7, 2020

“That seems to have been forgotten in a sort delusion of an ‘endless now’”
That’s interesting: constant novelty, against a backdrop of the eversame. Zizek/ Jameson/ whoever’s line about it being easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism is suddenly less secure. Easier now to imagine both.

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WorldbyStorm - July 7, 2020

I think so, Zizek’s point was well made in a sense for the period from perhaps the point where the sclerotic nature of the USSR became truly evident – somewhere I’d think was sometime in the 1970s, and reinforced by the collapse of same in 1991, up to this decade. But 2009-2020 surely must have indicated that capitalism is not what it has purported itself to be. I was only thinking this morning that all this must have thrown economic nostrums to the winds, at least partly.

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tafkaGW - July 7, 2020

It’s the intelligence and cunning of the con-man.

Yes it involves emotional intelligence of a kind and knowledge of people’s weaknesses, but it builds absolutely nothing of value.

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2. Ned Corcaigh - July 7, 2020

Lambert’s argument essentially boils down to the same reason advanced, to themselves and others, by people going to Cheltenham, travelling cross country to holiday homes, attending Black Lives Matters protests, the Garda Horkan funeral goers, the Dame Lane drinkers and the Bobby Storey funeral goers. “This is important for me. I have to do it.”
In the end that trumps everything for a sizable number of people. (I don’t mean to be political point scoring here by the way. I’ve nothing against any of the people mentioned here. Well, OK maybe against one category.)
But there’s certainly a degree of self delusion here. And perhaps also the comforting thought that if there is a surge nobody can absolutely prove that your journey was the one responsible. Sure it might have happened anyway so why not do something that you’d have really felt bad about missing.
I also feel that there is sometimes a compensatory thing going on whereas someone who has made an unwise journey will on their return enter the fray with renewed ferociousness, berating other people who breach the regulations as though to convince themselves that they’re hardly at fault at all compared to the real villains.
It’s all pretty unwise. Lambert’s invocation of mental health concerns as a reason that he simply has to take his holiday strikes me as pretty offensive to those with genuine problems in this area. “I’ll go mad if I don’t get away this summer,” is hardly the literal truth.

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tafkaGW - July 7, 2020

Yes indeed.

Imagine the general state of mental health if the virus goes out of control as in the US or India.

Once more; a little discomfort like not being able to fly to the Canaries for your holidays or wearing a mask when shopping etc. is absolutely nothing compared with what it’s like to get the virus seriously, and what it’ll do to societies where 1% die and up to 5% are long term sick as a result of it.

Screw neoliberal individualism and its pallid satisfactions, whoever deep rooted they may have become.

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WorldbyStorm - July 7, 2020

+1 Just on that, I know people, people who have close relatives in say Poland or likewise who can no more think about summer ‘holidays’ than fly due to low wages, etc, etc. Since when did a foreign holiday become a necessity as distinct from a choice built around disposable income etc. Holidays in Ireland were the bread and butter of this society for many decades, for those who could afford them. And, agreed, the idea that it’s a foundation of mental health…. As myself as someone whose personally experienced depression and later anxiety I guess I could find it offensive, but at this stage what’s the point?

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3. CL - July 7, 2020
4. CL - July 7, 2020

Today, the Economic Security Project (ESP), along with the Justice Collaborative, released a letter signed by over 150 economists calling on Congress to provide “regular, lasting direct stimulus payments” to American families:

https://www.economicsecurityproject.org/emergencymoney/

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5. CL - July 7, 2020

“President Jair Bolsonaro disclosed Tuesday that he has the coronavirus, turbocharging the debate over his cavalier handling of a pandemic that has killed more than 65,000 Brazilians.
Mr. Bolsonaro has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic, opposed measures to stem its spread and encouraged mass rallies of his supporters. At one point he dismissed the virus as “a measly cold,” and when asked in late April about the rising death toll, he replied: “So what? Sorry, but what do you want me to do?”

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WorldbyStorm - July 7, 2020

What can one say CL?

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6. CL - July 7, 2020

And on herd immunity- ““Despite the high impact of Covid-19 in Spain, prevalence estimates remain low and are clearly insufficient to provide herd immunity,” the report’s authors said. “This cannot be achieved without accepting the collateral damage of many deaths in the susceptible population and overburdening of health systems. In this situation, social distance measures and efforts to identify and isolate new cases and their contacts are imperative for future epidemic control.”
https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/07/herd-immunity-questioned-after-spanish-coronavirus-antibody-study.html

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7. irishelectionliterature - July 7, 2020

I think the travel thing is in part being driven by airlines running flights and thus people being unable to get a refund (not that they were getting them anyway).
I’ve no idea the number of people directly or indirectly employed by Dublin Airport (or other Irish airports) but it must be massive and unfortunately those jobs aren’t returning anytime soon.
My Mam was telling me that they won’t be using the paper missals at mass anymore. So there’s some company that printed many thousands of mass leaflets every week now without that contract.

Liked by 1 person

rockroots - July 8, 2020

Just as an aside on your last point – I understand from relatives that there are moves in the Church of Ireland to swap the shared communion chalice for individual glasses. That’s how it’s done in Presbyterian churches and in my experience it always seemed much more civilised! There’s some resistance, on theological grounds, to what would be a significant change to the rituals, but given the demographic of church-goers it makes practical sense. Hymn-singing – a fairly central part of the Protestant service – is also officially discouraged at the moment.

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