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Lock-down was “never about stopping people getting sick”? Not sure that’s correct. May 28, 2020

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Listening to the calls from FF in particular, but some Independents, for restrictions to be lifted and for the medical advice to be, well, ignored actually, might make some wonder whether matters might have been taken a different turn under a different government. It’s not that FG are beyond criticism. Far far from it. When the history of this period comes to be written it will be useful to get a sense of what precisely happened in care homes and other institutional settings. But perhaps the fact that there were a number of medical or medical adjacent politicians close to the heart of government was no bad thing. Certainly it is revealing to see the rhetoric coming from FF’s Jim O’Callaghan who said: “the job of our public health advisers to provide public health advice but it is not their job to weigh that public health advice along with other factors. That’s the function of Government.” And continued with a variety of contentious points:

Warning that the lockdown restrictions “need to be lifted sooner rather than later”, he said “the reality is that we’re going to have to continue to live with Covid” and with a certain amount of risk.
“It has never been the case that public health advice was mandatory on people. We also need to recognise that the purpose of the lockdown was to stop our hospital intensive care units being overrun.

And continues with this eye-opening formulation:

“However we cannot now transform the purpose of the lockdown into being that we want to use it for the purpose of stopping people getting sick. That was never the purpose of the lockdown and it would be highly unusual if that was going to be the purpose of its continuance.

Surely the lock-down was precisely to prevent people getting sick and its continuation in modified form is for exactly that purpose? Indeed preventing ICU’s being over-run and people getting sick is one and the same problem.

And we have it from no lesser authority than the Taoiseach who in the speech announcing the lock-down said:

“I’m appealing to every man, woman and child to make these sacrifices for the love of each other … show that you care for your family and friends: stay home,” said Varadkar.

He declined to use the term lockdown but said the measures were drastic. “There isn’t much more we could do beyond this to restrict movement. These are radical actions aimed at saving as many people’s lives as possible in the days and weeks ahead.

And:

Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, said day-on-day increases have slowed, suggesting restrictions are working, but added that this did not mean the worst was over. “It tells us we are having early impact. We think now is the time for us to move, to try and spend two weeks to really suppress this virus as much as is possible in the community.”

This none too subtle rewriting of history is alarming, is it not?

The debate from the Oireachtas is worth reading in full, particularly FF’s contributor’s thoughts.

Air travel, ‘perfect safety’ and political leadership during the pandemic… May 28, 2020

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A head of steam building up to reverse the fourteen day quarantine on travellers into the state. Michael O’Leary spoke about this yesterday offering us his expertise in the area of virus control, such as it is, and making great play of European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control guidelines.

According to O’Leary:

…the quarantine measures have “no basis in health measures and no basis in science”, adding that people can fly “in perfect safety fully supported by the ECDC and the European Safety Agency”.

And the day before there was a letter in the IT from the head of the Irish Airline Pilots Association which argues in the Irish Times that the fourteen day quarantine on passengers arriving in Ireland will “have a devastating effect on aviation, trade and tourism in Ireland and would ensure negligible passenger demand, and deserted airports with airlines not flying into and out of the island.”

That in a sense is correct. Yet it appears to be based on the idea that other states are opening up perhaps faster than they are. Moreover it too argues that ‘we are guided by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s guidelines and advice on how we can conduct flight operations as the Covid-19 pandemic is slowly brought under control.’

Given we are still in the very earliest stages of existing from the lock-down this concern is perhaps premature. There’s also the not insignificant reality that the UK has adopted a similar quarantine measure, as has France. The US isn’t opening any time soon as far as can be determined. It is true that Spain has set a target somewhat sooner in the Summer, as has Greece, but one has to feel that all this is subject to many factors and variables – such as whether there is a second wave of infections. In other words the efforts to push to open seem far far too early given where we currently are at. None of which is to deny the manner in which this pandemic is grievously impacting on those in tourism and travel areas.

Taking a look at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control guidelines is an interesting exercise in itself. And not one that perhaps is as comforting as the IALPA representative suggests.

For example it argues for a range of measures, masks, hand hygiene, temperature checks and so on. Indeed right up to the door of the aircraft one might well feel quite comfortable with the direction in which it goes. Well to a point. For example those temperature checks?

It should be recognised that thermal screening has many limitations and little evidence of effectiveness in detecting COVID-19 cases:
 Many symptomatic persons do not have fever and a large percentage of transmission of COVID-19 occurs by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases;
 Fever can easily be treated with medication; and
 It may give a false impression of safety with negative effect on compliance with other measures.

So really this is a bit cosmetic. But it strenuously argues that:

Passengers should be reminded that physical distancing between individuals of 1.5 metres should be maintained as much as is possible in the airport. For the supporting evidence regarding physical distancing, please see Annex 1.

Except… when one boards the aircraft – or a bit before, because there are caveats:

Aeroplane operators and airport operators should cooperate to ensure physical distancing is respected wherever feasible, especially during check-in, security check, pre-boarding and boarding. When the recommended physical distancing of 1.5 metres is not possible, due to infrastructure or operational constraints, aeroplane operators and airport operators should implement the additional risk mitigation measures such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, additional transport, etc. Airport operators should also, as far as practicable, put in place separate opposite flows. This could be achieved through floor markings or direction signs. The access to airport lavatories should respect the principles of physical distancing.

Yeah, but on the aircraft it’ll be okay, won’t it? After all, later in the document it argues that in the event of a ‘suspected case’ on board:

Passengers who were seated 2 seats in every direction from the suspected case may be considered close contacts and will need to be interviewed by the entry country public health authorities, if the suspect case is confirmed.

So obviously on board no one will sit within 2 seats except for close family members. And indeed the document does suggest that:

In addition to the other health and hygiene measures that must be observed at all times, where allowed by the passenger load, cabin configuration and mass and balance requirements, aeroplane operators should ensure, to the extent possible, physical distancing among passengers. Family members and individuals travelling together as part of the same household can be seated next to each other. The seat allocation process should be modified accordingly.

That 2 seats though…no-one surely will be within that?

Er… not quite. That line above about ‘infrastructure or operational constraints’ makes an unwelcome reappearance:

If physical distancing cannot be guaranteed because of the passenger load, seat configuration or other operational constraints, passengers and crew members on board an aircraft should adhere at all times to all the other preventive measures including strict hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette and should wear a face mask.

But the document notes in its latter pages:

Physical distancing
Current scientific studies and articles32 confirm that in general, the distance that large respiratory droplets travel is 1.5 metres for normal speech and up to 2 metres when coughing. For this reason, aeroplane operators, airport operators and service providers should ensure that physical distancing of 1.5 metres is maintained wherever this is operationally feasible. In case physical distancing cannot be guaranteed because of operational constraints, the airport operator should implement risk mitigation measures, such as providing face masks for the passengers.

So anyone within that 2 seats area is going to be able to cough and likely speak and in such a way as to, if they are infected, spread the disease. And all the good intentions about operational feasibility or risk mitigation measures are not going to allay concerns. Indeed the very same document notes that the ‘risk mitigation measure’ that it explicitly references in the above, that being face masks…

The use of face masks in airports should be considered only as a complementary measure and not as a replacement for established preventive measures, for example physical distancing, respiratory etiquette, meticulous hand hygiene and avoiding touching the face, nose, eyes and mouth.

As noted above, not as comforting as might be thought. And one would have to wonder at the accuracy of the line in the original letter which suggests that:

While other EU member states carefully and sensibly relax restrictions on passengers who fly, Ireland is considering a policy which is not based on EU aviation guidelines, the epidemiology or coordination with other countries.

Not based on the epidemiology? Not so sure about that. Moreover there was strong pushback from Public health experts against these ideas.

Dr Gabriel Scally, speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney, cautioned against unneccessary travel, saying the last thing Ireland wants to do is start importing new Covid cases from elsewhere.

He said it is a real danger and pointed out that there were a significant number of cases among Chinese people returning home, once restrictions there were lifted.

Dr Scally said there will be a lot of Irish people who want to come home soon and there is a risk they could bring coronavirus cases from other jurisdictions.

Speaking on the same programme, Kingston Mills, Professor of Experimental Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, has said that quarantine measures should be in place for travellers coming from countries which are experiencing a high level of virus.

And given the actual ECDC document and what it contains one would have to take serious issue with O’Leary’s assertion that:

…people can fly “in perfect safety fully supported by the ECDC and the European Safety Agency”.

‘Perfect safety’ clearly means something quite radically different to O’Leary than it does to me.

Which perhaps underlines the following:

Dr Scally said he did not know where Mr O’Leary had received his information, and he told RTÉ Radio’s Today programme he did not think that anyone should take public health advice from the Ryanair boss.

Or perhaps O’Leary could, and should, read the documents he uses to make his case. Whatever their intent they’re not making the case he claims they do.

But where is the political leadership on this? In fairness FG’s Heather Humphries was out fighting against too rapid easing of the lock down, but where are others in FG and FF on this?

Good on SF though for having a clear and concise message:

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said that Mr O’Leary was “trying to drum up business for Ryanair. He is not a public health expert”. The TD said she understood that people were frustrated and wanted life to get back to normal but it was important that any move back to normality had to be done safely, guided by public health advice.

‘Changed economic circumstances’… May 28, 2020

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Well that didn’t take long… the news that:

There have been calls on the parties negotiating the programme for government to clarify if pre-election pledges not to increase the pension age to 67 from next year will be honoured.

Labour’s Ged Nash said the newly published revised estimate for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection raised serious questions about whether the pension age increase will still be stopped.

Two sources close to the talks process have indicated to RTÉ News that delaying the raising of the pension age from January next could be difficult to achieve given the changed economic circumstances.

As Mícheál Lehane notes on RTÉ this was a significant issue at the General Election earlier this year and both FF and the GP were adamant that changes should be postponed.

‘Changed economic circumstances’. We’re going to hear a lot more of that over the next while.

Sore losers May 27, 2020

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After their less than stunning day in court guess who is appealing the High Court ruling on their challenge to Covid-19 pandemic measures? That’s right, a certain duo.

And entertainingly:

They argued that the court should not order them to pay the State’s or or the notice parties’ legal costs on grounds including that their action was brought in the public interest.

Risk free? May 27, 2020

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Anyone read a piece in the IT at the weekend about how the restaurant industry is facing reopening. Or rather not in the case of many restaurants which are holding out until public sentiment is better. The measures taken suggest to me that there will be a step change – many of these are being adopted abroad and will be seen here too: temperature checks, masks handed out at doors, plastic screens and/or booths around tables and so on. But there’s a key point made by one restaurant owners which the comments BTL exhorting the economy to ‘open’ seem to completely miss or ignore:

Last weekend, chef Anita Thoma was supposed to be eating dinner at the Tannery restaurant in Dungarvan, Co Waterford as part of her hen night celebrations before her wedding at Ballyvolane House in Fermoy, Co Cork in July.

So clearly someone with an understanding of the industry. And also someone carefully examining the options in terms of other countries approaches. But:

With the dining-out landscape about to change so dramatically, some restaurateurs fear that the public will be reluctant to visit restaurants when they do reopen.

In response to a recent question posted on Twitter, asking if people would be visiting restaurants and cafes once they reopen on June 29th, a significant number of the more than 200 who commented said that they would not. Anita Thoma is among that number. “It’s too soon for me to go back into a restaurant, both as chef and as a diner – as a human being,” she says.

And as noted on here before, that’s the key factor. I’d like nothing more than to return to the once every month or two visit to a local bar/restaurant in Fairview. To me the fact workers have had jobs end with no clear point in sight as to when, if ever, they will resume is dismal in the extreme. I’d hope ever measure is taken to assist businesses to make it across the present period. And to judge from this report businesses in this particular area are working hard to make it possible for them to reopen and safely for staff and customers.

But until it is clearly safe to do so, that the risks of catching the virus are minimal, how on earth can one justify going to such premises? Going to a restaurant, or to a pub, or a social gathering has never previously carried to any significant extent the very real risk of catching a potentially life-changing illness. And all the stuff about how ‘nothing in life is risk free’ as evidenced in comments BTL is simply empty rhetoric in the face of that fact and until that is addressed rather than evaded the state of the economy is going to be fragile. Or to put it another way, you can’t force people to socialise or spend money when such risk exists. And that’s as valid an expression of freedom and autonomy as any other, arguably more so given this is about personal and collective health.

Nudge nudge May 27, 2020

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Behavioural scientists get a bad rap in a time of nudge theory, and likely rightly so. But interesting to see their attitudes to the following:

Members of a government behavioural science advisory group have expressed concern that the revelations that Dominic Cummings appears to have broken the UK’s coronavirus restrictions and the government’s subsequent handling of the crisis has undermined the government’s authority and could encourage people to break the rules themselves.

And hardly surprisingly:

“The actions of Cummings, and of Johnson and other cabinet ministers subsequently, have been perceived by the UK public to show that there is one rule for those close to the government and another for the rest of us – i.e., a lack of fairness and equity,” says Susan Michie, a health psychologist at University College London. “This is extremely damaging, as collective solidarity is very important for maintaining trust.”

Michie has been a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), which advises the government on how best to get the public to stick to measures recommended by medical or epidemiological experts.

In February, a SPI-B report stressed that a “sense of collectivism” would be important for maintaining public order, saying that a sense that “we are all in this together” would avoid increasing tensions, promote social norms, and lead to self-policing within communities.

Well, no surprise that a portion of the ‘elite’ would act in certain ways.

“The actions of Cummings, and of Johnson and other cabinet ministers subsequently, have been perceived by the UK public to show that there is one rule for those close to the government and another for the rest of us – i.e., a lack of fairness and equity,” says Susan Michie, a health psychologist at University College London. “This is extremely damaging, as collective solidarity is very important for maintaining trust.” Michie has been a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), which advises the government on how best to get the public to stick to measures recommended by medical or epidemiological experts. In February, a SPI-B report stressed that a “sense of collectivism” would be important for maintaining public order, saying that a sense that “we are all in this together” would avoid increasing tensions, promote social norms, and lead to self-policing within communities.

As EUREFERENDUM.COM noted, there were clear questions to be answered after Cummings press conference (as well, as EUR also noted the bizarre aspect of a government advisor giving a press conference/statement from where he did).

In a way the most astounding aspect of this is that we remain within a global pandemic, and yet, in so many areas people act as if it were business (I use the term quite deliberately) as usual.

What you want to say – 27 May 2020 May 27, 2020

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As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

This new pacific Trump foreign policy world! Number 5 in a continuing series. May 26, 2020

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A continuing series. Probably deserves more than 5 posts – but trying to keep focus on the things one can deal with. That said this does merit consideration:

Members of the Trump administration have reportedly discussed the possibility of the United States carrying out its first nuclear test in almost three decades, a move that would have huge geopolitical implications, reports the Washington Post. The issue reportedly came up at a May 15 meeting with senior officials representing top national security agencies in which the claims that Russia and China are carrying out low-yield nuclear tests was discussed. Both countries have denied the allegations and there is no publicly available evidence to support the claims but at least some officials appear to believe a test could provide some leverage in negotiations.

One senior administration official tells the Post that a “rapid test” could be useful as part of a broader negotiation with China and Russia over a deal to regulate the nuclear arsenals of the biggest nuclear powers. Although officials did not agree to carry out the test, the proposal is “very much an ongoing conversation,” the official said. Another official played down the possibility, saying officials ultimately decided on other actions that did not involve a nuclear test.

I think all those explanations are implausible. I suspect this is along the lines of ‘Space Force’ etc, an attention grabbing effort for a President well into an election year with not great polling figures.

Realism? May 26, 2020

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From RTÉ:

Talks between the Green Party, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil resume this morning with the focus of today’s discussions set to centre on the economy.

Some of those involved in the negotiations have described the meeting as one of the most important yet.

It is a key day in the lengthy process of trying to form a new government.

It comes as the Fine Gael steering group on the talks told its deputy leader Simon Coveney last night that any economic recovery plan will have to be based on realism.

I think we know what that means.

Trotskyists Géry Lawless wedding photgraph. May 26, 2020

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Via The Irish Republican Marxist History Project
Gerry Lawless getting married to Ann Murphy.

This recently discovered photograph of Irish Workers’ Group members attending the wedding of Trotskyists Géry Lawless and Ann Murphy about 1968 in London. R to L: Kevin Lawless, Géry, Ann Murphy and top right Máirín Keegan, next to Máirín with glasses Joe Quinn. The 2nd row to the left is Phil Flynn.

Lawless was a leading activist in the Irish Workers Group and the International Marxist Group who always spelled his first name this way, never as “Gerry”. It was an abbreviation of the Irish “Gearóid”, not of the English “Gerard”.

If anyone can name any more of the people in the photograph please do.

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