THERE has been a lot of debate going on during the first phase of the lifting of the restrictions imposed in the Republic of Ireland to slow down the spread of the Covid-19 virus about whether the recommended social distancing between people should be reduced from two metres to one, as it has been in several other countries and is recommended as safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
So far, our health advisory people have not been for turning on reducing the distance, in spite of calls from politicians and business interests, probably knowing that most people are treating the two metres as one metre already and that, if it was reduced to the lower figure at this stage, people would be in one another’s faces almost and it is very much premature for that from a health and safety point of view.
However, as we go through the phases of relaxing the restrictions, in order to give businesses, especially those in the hospitality sector, a fighting chance of survival into the future, the authorities will have to give serious consideration to the one-metre social distancing rule, taking into account the experiences of other countries that have been using it.
At the time of writing, the second phase of the lifting of the restrictions, which is due to start on Monday, June 8th, looks like it will be able to go ahead, as planned, because while the coronavirus has not gone away, it has been largely suppressed in the community, with its incidence comfortably manageable for the health service and the number of Covid-19 deaths greatly reduced from what they were. Credit for this is due to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), led by chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, who have stuck to their guns and not acceded to some of our politicians’ populist calls to ease the restrictions more quickly.
NPHET made some mistakes too along the way as they struggled to navigate the uncharted waters of the Covid-19 pandemic. Clearly, not enough attention was paid in the early stages to the nursing homes sector, which has accounted for just under two-thirds of the deaths from the virus so far, and lessons must be learned from this as they need to be able to deal far better and more efficiently with the threat of a possible second wave come next winter.
Last weekend, the Council for Healthcare of the Irish Episcopal Conference issued a statement about the matter, saying they would welcome ‘appropriate inquiries’ into the reasons why nursing care facilities were so badly affected.
‘More and more people will be availing of nursing care in the years ahead. Nursing homes should be prioritised by the State to ensure that they have the personnel and equipment necessary to deal with such crisis situations as soon as they arise,’ the Catholic bishops’ spokesperson stated.
‘Every resident is someone’s mother, father, grandparent, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or friend. They have played their part over many decades in contributing to their communities and to the economy. The lives of those who live in such facilities should be valued, respected, and enhanced.’
The statement pointedly concludes: ‘At this time, the coronavirus crisis presents an opportunity for society to reflect on where it stands in relation to the elderly and to others who are most vulnerable among us. The lessons learned will enable us to build a culture of life and care where everyone is supported and all are entitled to life-protecting services and facilities.’
As we enter Phase 2 of the lifting of restrictions, hopefully next week, which will allow us to roam further, let us not forget that the ones that were imposed in late spring and early summer, and which were respected by the vast majority of the population for the common good, were made tolerable by good weather, which allowed people to get out of their houses to exercise, albeit within only a 2km radius for a time, to the benefit of both their physical and mental wellbeing.
Another such lockdown, if we were to get an overwhelming second wave of the virus during the dead of winter, would feel a lot more restrictive and seem much more unpleasant, so we need to stay vigilant about things like hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and the maintenance of adequate social distancing the whole time.
Now is not the time to drop our guard and lose the run of ourselves, no matter how tempting the recent spell of beautiful summer weather has been making it.