If lockdown has morphed from tactic to strategy, the State has failed

Seven months is not long, but it is a lifetime in a pandemic. Those whose businesses have been mothballed and livelihoods whipped away should take solace from that this weekend, as we re-enter lockdown and fret about the future. Things change quickly and the lockdown strategies held up as immovable orthodoxy now may not be considered such orthodoxy by spring. Hang in there.

Seven months ago, on the third Friday in March and as coronavirus ravaged Italy, chief medical officer Tony Holohan went onto the Late Late Show to soothe a worried nation. He said a lockdown was not necessary in Ireland and infection rates should slow quickly.

At that stage, social distancing and hand washing were the only weapons the State deemed necessary to contain the virus.

“What we’re trying to emphasise is, if most of the people in the population follow most of measures we’ve recommended, most of the time,” said Holohan, “if they follow those measures, we think that can have the effect of interrupting the chains of transmission”.

Looking back, it all sounds so quaint. A week later, Ireland entered a particularly harsh lockdown. It was the correct decision in the circumstances.

Almost three months later, in the second week of June, as exhausted citizens were still finding their feet during a painfully slow and therefore divisive economic reopening, Holohan went on RTÉ radio to declare that the State would not resort to lockdown again to fight a second wave.

Second wave

“I wouldn’t be anticipating at this point in time that we would be moving back to blanket closures in the way we did in March,” he said. “If a resurgence of the disease happened or a second wave, we would know what specific measures to take, having done our work proactively.”

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Four months later, and it seems lockdowns are not just a part of the plan. They are the plan.


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