Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Disastrous CoVid-19 Epidemic in the north of Ireland – Stormont Government Shambles, U-Turns and Half-Measures

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A CoVid-19 disaster is happening in the north of Ireland. It is spreading. This was preventable. And drastic measures are now necessary – the Stormont government’s latest measures are “too little too late”.

Zero CoVid Strategy Needed in Ireland

Éamonn McCann, veteran socialist and People Before Profit Councillor (Derry-Strabane) reports from a state in Ireland which has one of the highest CoVid-19 infection rates in the world. The official name of that failed state is Northern Ireland.

Eamonn McCann’s alarming analysis is supported by the north’s doctors’ union, the British Medical Association (BMA [NI]).

The north’s BMA chairperson Dr Tom Black, warns :

BMA (NI) chairperson Dr Tom Black – CoVid-19 measures in the north “too little too late”

“New coronavirus restrictions introduced by the executive are “too little, too late”, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) in NI has warned.”Following a virtual meeting with members the unanimous view is that restrictions weren’t tough enough,”

“The Derry GP warned that hospitals could soon be overwhelmed. Schools will close from Monday and pubs and restaurants face new restrictions from Friday evening.”This is the first time the BMA has come out not in agreement with Stormont,” Dr Black told BBC Radio Foyle.”The big concern is that we are going to be overwhelmed, particularly on hospital wards and, hopefully not, but possibly in ICU [intensive care units].”That is why the Nightingale was open yesterday.”The virus focused facility in Belfast City Hospital’s tower block, was re-opened on Wednesday due to Covid-19 pressures, having been stood down in May.Two additional wards have also been opened at Derry’s Altnagelvin Hospital to treat coronavirus patients, while a third ward has been identified for further admissions.”

Eamonn McCann sounds an alarm :

If you were in any doubt about how unfit for leadership the NI Executive is, let their inability to hold a long overdue Assembly meeting on our disastrous Covid-19 response last night and their shambolic announcement of u-turns and half-measures today be final proof of it.

This unscientific short-term game of whack-a-mole being played by the NI Executive, where we reopened the epicentre of ‘community transmissions’ (non-essential workplaces they insisted were safe) to ‘eat out to help out’, ‘get back to work’, and ‘get back to school’ – before we have a fully functioning testing and tracing system in place – only to reimpose restrictions once the NI Executive’s institutional failures has caused Covid to spiral out of control, has not only rapidly reversed everyone’s efforts but is deepening and widening the economic crisis while continuing to take the lives of the most vulnerable – Covid and non-Covid alike.

Not only was it entirely predictable that this would be the scenario since loosening lockdown over summer and then pushing so many working parents back to work and children back to school in late August/early September – when we instead had an opportunity to crush this virus through keeping people at home while furlough was still in place – but it is also entirely avoidable as successful case studies such as Vietnam (35 deaths in total) and New Zealand (25 deaths in total) have shown through aggressively pursuing an elimination strategy rooted in protecting public health and minimising job losses in the long-term.

The latter has already defeated their second wave with just a single death and resumed a strong semblance of normality, with all key indicators ranking it highest for political stability, economic recovery, and virus control. ‘Global business leaders’ formerly critical of the Labour-led country’s ‘over reactive’ Covid-19 response now admit it is “the best in the world”.

The NI Executive talk about the need to strike a fine balancing act between public health and saving jobs, but whether it is lives or livelihoods they are failing on every measure by not adopting an all-island Zero Covid Strategy that includes a proper financial package for workers and small businesses. People Before Profit have consistently challenged the false choice of ‘pandemic or poverty’ because we are looking to what has worked elsewhere, yet at every turn we are continually ignored by this NI Executive who are blinded by their ideological commitments to neoliberalism.

As it stands today, upwards of 800 of those aged over 60 years old now have Covid, 53 care homes again have outbreaks (with a further 10 dealing with outbreaks), over 200 ‘facilities’ (workplaces) are closed due to outbreaks, and over 60 schools/colleges/universities have reported outbreaks recently, resulting in an unknown but increased number of closures. There are only 12 unoccupied ICU beds now available across the North of Ireland (expected to run out by the weekend), hospital capacity across the six counties is over 85%, and an increasing number of healthcare workers are self-isolating because of testing positive. All of this was avoidable.

Best practice clearly points to a return to an intense lockdown across all non-essential sectors met with an adequate financial support fund, a severe limit on international travel, and a fully functioning test and trace system in place for loosening lockdown at the point where we have a very low number of cases.

It’s long past time for an all-Ireland Zero Covid Strategy. Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is madness.

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