John Dolan: Cork is playing a blinder on Covid, so give our citizens a break, Micheál

How much longer can this ultra-stance last, asks John Dolan in his weekly column
John Dolan: Cork is playing a blinder on Covid, so give our citizens a break, Micheál

A sign in Cork city about keeping your social distance during Covid-19.

“WE’RE all in this together,” has been a constant refrain of this Covid-19 year.

But are we really?

Are the people who are clearly still flouting the laws ‘in this’ with the citizens who have only left their armchairs for a trip to the shops since Christmas?

Are the people who flew to and from the Canaries for some sunshine ‘in this’ with those who have been living a groundhog day at home all winter?

My unscientific estimate is that possibly 85% of us are in this together, and thankfully that should be enough to see us through this crisis without it turning into an all-out disaster.

That leaves around 15% who are, and always will be, in it for themselves. Such is life.

Of course, ‘We’re all in this together’ is a handy rallying cry, passed down from our politicians; it makes us feel like we’re taking one for Team Ireland, and lifts our spirits from the floor at times.

But, in a real sense, none of us are sharing the same pandemic experience. I, for one, feel lucky I can work from home and have welcomed the extra time with my kids, even though I am desperate for them all to return to the classroom. I am also glad that we have a garden and a nice view!

Even though my wife’s job has been gone for a year, and counting, I feel we can ride this out that little bit longer.

Then again, I can barely imagine how badly this pandemic would have affected me if it had happened when I lived alone in my twenties. Back then, socialising was my life. Left alone with my thoughts for a year, I’m really not sure how I would have got by; I certainly would have been sorely tempted to break the lockdown.

All of which begs the question of whether we should all be treated exactly the same throughout this pandemic by the Government.

Take the lockdowns.

Since the turn of the year, the entire country has been living under the strictest measures; no unnecessary travelling, staying within 5km of our homes, keeping to ourselves. It looks as if Micheál Martin and NPHET are content to keep it that way too, in an attempt to totally suppress the virus until the vaccinations kick in.

City-dwellers, rural-dwellers, old, young... all are suffering the same. All in it together... or rather, all in the **it together!

But for how long can this ultra-strict stance last, until its intrinsic unfairness unravels entirely?

A glance at the daily Covid figures suggests it’s time this ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy was dismantled, for the good of large portions of the nation’s health.

For the past week, the number of daily cases in Cork has hovered around the 20-mark, from a population in the city and county of around 550,000 people.

This downward trend has meant that — despite a populous city and an airport — yesterday Cork could boast the lowest infection rate in all of Ireland’s counties, taken per head of population.

In contrast, Dublin still has 200-300 cases per day, while smaller counties such as Limerick, Longford and Galway continue to record comparatively high numbers.

Yet on Monday, junior and senior infants returned to classrooms across the country, irrespective of their county’s case numbers.

This makes no sense.

If numbers start to nudge up in the coming weeks because of this, then schools across the country will presumably all close again.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

If the government wanted to dip its foot in the water, shouldn’t it have opened all the schools in a few high-performing counties first, like Cork, then worked its way up through the counties as figures hopefully stayed stable?

It seems crazy that we in Cork will have to wait more than a month just to get all our schoolchildren back in class.

What seems to be lacking from the Government’s plan is any sense of flexibility. It’s a rigid, take-it-or-leave order that applies to all.

A loosening of the restrictions in counties where Covid is very low would be most welcome to their inhabitants, and needn’t break the spirit of us all being ‘in it together’.

Similarly, it makes sense to keep the 5km restriction in cities, but to extend this to say 10km in the suburbs, and 20km in rural counties. A little tinkering like this would go a long way in these frustrating times, and would be just as easily policed.

I can understand why opening up retail shops and outdoor dining in just a few counties would risk attracting people from more restricted areas, but we’re talking here about schools, and a little more freedom in counties where Covid is rapidly diminishing.

Nor is this about punishing the poorly-performing counties and rewarding those performing well. It’s about using common sense to give as many people as possible as much freedom as is safe to do so.

It’s interesting to note that right at the start of the pandemic a year ago, the issue of applying restrictions on a county-by-county basis, rather than this ‘one-nation’ sticking plaster, was weighed up and then rejected by the Government.

However, a precedent was still set last August when Micheál Martin introduced restrictions to just three counties — Kildare, Laois and Offaly — which had seen a worrying spike in cases.

The Taoiseach said at the time that the “process of reopening is not simple. It is not a case of moving forward step by step”.

The same logic surely should apply on a county by county basis, at a time when some smaller counties are starting to record zero daily cases.

It’s time counties like Cork were given a break, Taoiseach.

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