Ailin Quinlan: Public’s buy-in at risk due to all the muddled Covid messages

Confusion reigns in Government over plans to curb the virus, says Áilín Quinlan
Ailin Quinlan: Public’s buy-in at risk due to all the muddled Covid messages

MIND-BOGGLING: Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly

THE entire Dáil seemed set to make for the hills the minute Stephen Donnelly announced that he felt unwell.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it was my impression that for a considerable time after it emerged that Covid-19 was a problem in many meat plants, nobody in the State cockpit seemed to be in any real panic about it.

Then there’s the high level of threat to school staff — teachers, special needs assistants, secretaries, caretakers and so on — who come face to face with large numbers of youngsters every day, while the State keeps insisting that schools will stay open at all costs.

There were those big steel shutters which slammed down over Kildare, Laois and Offaly a few weeks ago when it seemed things were getting a bit out of hand there. You don’t have to be a genius to see that things have been way, way, way out of hand in Dublin for some time now. Yet there were no steel shutters for the capital.

Despite the meteoric rise of the virus there, the region which a member of NPHET described as a “disease reservoir” this week, was still categorised at the same level —Two — as the rest of the country at the release of the five-stage plan.

Yet by that point the incidence of the virus in the worst-affected parts of Dublin had risen above the ‘red alert’ threshold of 120 cases per 100,000 population, the figure used by the health service to denote the absolute highest level of alert.

Even if Dublin has moved to Level Three by the time you read this, the capital, which is crawling with Covid, will still be proudly open for business. Bit of a double standard there too.

Plus the level of confusion about Dublin was mind-boggling. Minister Stephen Donnelly was explaining that Dublin residents could absolutely travel outside the county. Meanwhile, the Taoiseach was declaring they shouldn’t, while the Tanaiste, never averse to adding his own two-and-fourpence, stated that the government was “strongly discouraging people from travelling outside of Dublin” unless really necessary. I’d opt for Leo Vardkar’s take on things. He is after all a doctor, and he has, after all, been down this road before and made a decent good hand of the thing, which you can’t really say for the current crew.

It’s worrying, this level of miscommunication and muddle, because in a crisis, which is definitely what we’re in, communication about what we all must do to help, is crucial. However public buy-in to the government’s somewhat muddled messages is increasingly at risk, while patience with the resilience of the virus grows thin; why won’t it just GO AWAY?

There’s also been the failure to address a really obvious problem like big social gatherings where social distancing is continually breached. You can beat the drums about what everyone should be doing to stop the spread of the virus – but if, for example, the people listening to you are seeing throngs of scantily-clad teenagers constantly being dropped off at big brawling urban house parties with nobody shouting stop – some of them in the Taoiseach’s own constituency – they will eventually stop listening.

Another anomaly is posed by some Covid-testing centres which are located a good drive from towns and villages, but not on public transport routes. In this case, anyone who needs a test but who doesn’t have a car or access to a spin, is in trouble. I know one family in this situation. A small child needed a Covid test which was to be carried out at a centre in the heart of the countryside about three or four miles from their home in a small County Cork village. But the family doesn’t have a car. And although the bus passes along the main road close to their front door, the testing centre is quite a distance inland from that bus route. Most certainly you couldn’t walk to it with a small child from where the bus stops. The grandparents who would usually have stepped in to drive, couldn’t, because they are both high Covid-risks as a result of long-term health conditions. Several family friends who had cars were away for the weekend.

Suddenly Mammy realised there was no way for her to bring her little son to the centre for his test. In a panic she rang the gardaí for advice only to be told testily - excuse the pun - that the gardaí would not be transporting a potential Covid case to a testing centre. Eventually, a member of the extended family network living elsewhere was prevailed upon to make the not-inconsiderable journey from the city to this rural village in order to transport mother and child three or four miles to the testing centre.

Questions: Why wasn’t the centre on the outskirts of the village within brisk walking distance, at least? Why wasn’t it accessible by public transport? Why is there no system in place to get people without private transport to testing centres like this which are not accessible from the public transport network?

The problem is that once they start to see these anomalies and realise that nothing is being done about them, despite all the shouting about the need to stop the spread of Covid, people get fed up and stop listening.

And if that happens, the virus wins. The figures show the virus is winning. And if Covid wins, we lose, and God help us all.

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