News Commentary by Liam Gillespie
As Victoria tentatively looks forward, and dares to dream of a Covid-free Christmas, many other countries find themselves staring down the barrel of the same purgatory and uncertainty we have been enduring for the better part of a year. Ireland is one of those countries.
The similarities between Victoria and Ireland during this pandemic are numerous and telling. The populations are separated by just 1 million, and the Covid timelines have been eerily familiar.
Since that fateful Leap Year day when a year was taken from us, Ireland has gone through several, varying stages of reactive measures and restrictions, driven mostly by fluctuating and terrifying numbers.
The statistics are readily available and, for those who have had nothing to do but follow the numbers closely, the writing appears on the wall quite quickly. The graphs indicating known cases have followed similar trajectories.
An initial spike in Victoria was followed by several encouraging weeks when we all assumed the worst was over. Remember those days?
It was during this time that, government-sanctioned or not, we collectively decided all was right with the world once again. Restrictions were eased and people resumed their lives with reckless relief and premature hubris.
Ireland’s first spike peaked, cruelly, around March 17. A similar oasis of low numbers followed.
During this time various measures were employed and retracted by the government of the day. Like regions of Victoria, counties in Ireland were assigned restriction levels based on daily numbers and threat of community transmission. Populous metropolitan areas and the nation’s capital were sent into levels of lockdown we are all too familiar with. Schools, childcare, cultural institutions, businesses, amenities and venues were all closed. Large gatherings were prohibited and the Gardaí were empowered to enforce these restrictions punitively.
The public reaction was passionate and polarized. One imagines cancelling St Patrick’s Day was as offensive to the Irish as sending the Grand Final to QLD was to Victorians. With a thousand different ways to receive facts and a hundred thousand ways to interpret them, the spectrum of opinion soon became clear. Cries of ‘martial law’ and ‘dictatorship’ echoed through empty streets as the silent majority endured a labor that was being tested with each passing day of no end in sight.
Where the timelines differ starts somewhere between the first wave and the second. Victoria’s began earlier than Ireland’s. As a result, any attempt made to relieve restrictions were short-lived and swiftly reversed. Ireland followed roughly a month afterward.
That month can make a difference.
As of October 4, the National Public Health Emergency Team, designed specifically to oversee and provide direction and expert advice across the health service and the wider public service on the national response to the coronavirus disease, recommended to the Government of Ireland that Stage 5 restrictions be enforced to limit and prevent further cases of the virus breaking out. That recommendation was rejected. All counties in Ireland have been placed under Stage 3 restrictions from midnight October 6.
Melbourne has been under Stage 4 restrictions since August 2. On August 5, 715 new cases were recorded. as of writing this, 11 new cases were recorded overnight.
A look at the daily graphs suggests, even to a layperson, that Ireland is not through the worst of it yet. There is no criticism to be made here, nor cautionary tale. History and hindsight will determine what went right and what went wrong. Speaking as someone with friends, family and heritage in Ireland, speaking as someone who has watched the world go by from a window for a long time…my strongest wish is that Ireland is able to come out of this sooner rather than later. That their leaders and citizenry are acting from a place of humanity and care. I wish the same for Victoria too.
Liam is a first generation Irish Australian, and an actor.