Two places, two very different situations, and it’s worth talking about. First, Ireland:
Nphet recommendations ahead of today’s cabinet meeting:
🔸Older people asked to limit time outdoors, avoid congregated settings.
🔸Family gatherings reduced to six per house indoors, 15 outdoors.
🔸People asked to work from home if they can.
— Philip Ryan (@Philip_Ryan) August 18, 2020
And second, New York:
Today's update on the numbers:
Of the 56,891 tests reported yesterday, 408 were positive (0.71% of total).
Total hospitalizations are at 534.
Sadly, there were 6 COVID fatalities yesterday. pic.twitter.com/eHQ7XckueH
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) August 17, 2020
No sign of a second wave, you’ll note, in the Big Apple.
Which is objectively odd, isn’t it? Ireland has been following restrictions, with some exceptions, for months now. New York, with a much denser, and harder to manage, population, and with fewer restrictions, is doing vastly better. And before you say it, no – it’s not about “competence”.
It’s not about competence because the New York response was masterfully incompetent. Even with America being a disaster zone for the virus overall, New York managed to take the cake for making a mess of it – a friend living over there joked recently that the Governor’s strategy amounted to “feeding the virus old folks until it was too full to bother infecting anybody else”.
So what’s happened? Well, whisper it, but, when the virus ripped through the city like a Tornado earlier this year, is it possible that herd immunity was achieved? If it was ever likely to be achieved, New York is the obvious candidate. A massive population, densely packed together, with highly ineffective measures to stop the spread. We know, increasingly, that a great many people have no symptoms whatsoever when they contract the virus. In Ireland, with a much less dense population making social distancing easier, even asymptomatic transmission is much more difficult to imagine.
And before you start saying it, no, it’s not just some chump on Gript wondering about this. Here are the actual scientists, in the New York Times yesterday:
In interviews with The New York Times, more than a dozen scientists said that the threshold is likely to be much lower: just 50 percent, perhaps even less. If that’s true, then it may be possible to turn back the coronavirus more quickly than once thought…
Assuming the virus ferrets out the most outgoing and most susceptible in the first wave, immunity following a wave of infection is distributed more efficiently than with a vaccination campaign that seeks to protect everyone, said Tom Britton, a mathematician at Stockholm University.
His model puts the threshold for herd immunity at 43 percent — that is, the virus cannot hang on in a community after that percentage of residents has been infected and recovered…
Researchers in Mumbai conducted … a random household survey, knocking on every fourth door — or, if it was locked, the fifth — and took blood for antibody testing. They found a startling disparity between the city’s poorest neighborhoods and its more affluent enclaves. Between 51 and 58 percent of residents in poor areas had antibodies, versus 11 to 17 percent elsewhere in the city.
The “threshold” they mention there is simply: “what percentage of people need to have had Covid before herd immunity is achieved”. Half, is the answer. With the huge numbers who tested positive in New York at the peak of the virus, and the likelihood that many tens of thousands more had the virus but were never tested because they were asymptomatic, the evidence points in one clear direction, doesn’t it? Herd Immunity.
So where does that leave Ireland? Poor old NPHET are back at it again, as you can see from the tweet above, trying to stop the spread by urging people to stay at home. Some people will listen, others will shout “plandemic” from the rooftops, in the firm, but absurd, belief that it benefits some kind of shadowy elite to tank the global economy.
The political problem, of course, is that herd immunity can only really be achieved by utter incompetence. No politician is ever going to risk coming out and saying “what we’re going to do is let everyone get infected”. Boris Johnson tried that in the UK for a few weeks at the beginning, and well, it didn’t work out so well. And no Irish politician is ever going to say “on reflection, Boris was right, actually”.
No, they have to pretend that they’re trying to stop it. And being honest, they really are trying to stop it. But by doing so, they might just be prolonging the pain.
Remember, though: If New York does have herd immunity, it purchased that immunity at the cost of 32,435 New Yorker lives, so far. In Ireland, that would amount to over eight thousand dead. We’ve actually had just 1,774.
So pick your poison: New York might have gotten through the crisis more quickly, but with a death rate well over four times what we’ve had here. If you’re reading this and wishing Ireland had been more incompetent overall, then you have to accept that the price might have been the lives of six thousand of our fellow citizens.