What should be done dif­fer­ently

The Irish Times - - Comment & Letters -

In­stead of draw­ing a false sense of se­cu­rity from the de­cline in Covid-19 in­fec­tions, the new Gov­ern­ment must use this mo­ment of rel­a­tive calm to plan for the sec­ond phase of the pan­demic. It must learn from what the the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion did right and wrong.

One of its mis­takes was mixed mes­sag­ing. At crit­i­cal mo­ments, the last gov­ern­ment over-promised on test­ing and trac­ing ca­pac­ity with lit­tle heed for what the Health Ser­vice Ex­ec­u­tive could ac­tu­ally de­liver. The sys­tem de­vel­oped in time, but one of the new Gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­i­ties must be to en­sure that it is ready to deal rapidly with any new spike in in­fec­tions.

De­spite a grow­ing body of lit­er­a­ture point­ing to the value of face masks as a pub­lic health tool, the last gov­ern­ment was slow to ad­vise peo­ple to wear them. When it even­tu­ally did so in mid-May, more than 11 weeks after the first Covid-19 case was con­firmed, the rec­om­men­da­tion was un­der­mined by of­fi­cials’ fre­quent ex­pres­sions of doubt about the ef­fec­tive­ness of face cov­er­ings. Lit­tle won­der many did not heed their ad­vice. The last gov­ern­ment be­gan to put that right by mak­ing masks manda­tory on pub­lic trans­port. This Cab­i­net should go fur­ther by fol­low­ing Spain, Scot­land and other coun­tries in mak­ing them manda­tory in shops and other pub­lic in­door set­tings.

There are wor­ry­ing echoes of the con­fu­sion over masks in the cur­rent de­bate over for­eign travel. On one hand, the Gov­ern­ment says it plans to make it eas­ier for peo­ple to go on hol­i­day. On the other, it re­minds us that pub­lic health of­fi­cials fear a resur­gence in in­fec­tions due to such travel. Clearly it can­not sat­isfy ev­ery con­stituency. So it must choose. On present ev­i­dence, given the alarm­ing rates of in­fec­tion across the world, it sim­ply must err on the side of cau­tion, be­cause while the eco­nomic cost of a travel ban for the tourism in­dus­try will be heavy, it will be as noth­ing com­pared to the cost of a sec­ond wave of in­fec­tions re­quir­ing an­other round of re­stric­tions. If a ban on non-es­sen­tial travel is the price to pay for keep­ing the do­mes­tic economy go­ing and keep­ing the virus at bay, it’s a price worth pay­ing.

The same mixed mes­sag­ing has been a fea­ture of the dis­cus­sion about schools where dif­fer­ent agen­cies of State have seemed at cross-pur­poses. Last month the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion warned that many stu­dents may be forced to at­tend school part-time from Sep­tem­ber, but did so with­out the ben­e­fit of health guid­ance. Such guid­ance only ar­rived on Wed­nes­day, when the Health Pro­tec­tion Sur­veil­lance Cen­tre pro­duced its own in­terim view. Arms of State should not be pro­duc­ing dif­fer­ent ad­vice, and at dif­fer­ent times. They should be work­ing to­gether.

A gov­ern­ment that had a clear view of its pri­or­i­ties – and the full re­turn of our chil­dren to school should be at or near the top of the list – would find it eas­ier to speak with one voice.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.