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From flatten the curve to flatten the country

It’s sort of easy to forget, at this stage of the Coronavirus nightmare, that the purpose of the vast array of restrictions that we have all been living under for the past few months was very clearly articulated at the time of their introduction: To “flatten the curve”.

Not to eradicate the virus, but to ensure that the hospitals were not overwhelmed with cases. To spread out the peak of the disease.

“Flatten the curve” is a phrase that has conspicuously disappeared from the media in recent weeks. Scanning this morning’s newspapers, you won’t find it, even as the Government announced a range of utterly bizarre measures to continue our national confinement. Restaurants will be allowed to open but must close at 11pm. Does Coronavirus become more infectious after 11pm? Rural pubs, many of them closed since March, must stay shuttered indefinitely, while larger urban pubs can stay open. Does the virus seem more likely to hit an urban pub, or a rural one?

The Dáil is so concerned about the Coronavirus that it has had to move, lock, stock, and barrel, to the national convention centre, at a cost of €25,000 per day. It is too dangerous, the health czars have decreed, for politicians to sit within a few yards of each other. But those same politicians are hell bent on re-opening schools and cramming thousands of teenagers into cramped corridors six or seven times a day. Does the Coronavirus seem more likely to impact politicians?

Nearly 300,000 of our people are now on state assistance due to Coronavirus hardship. Large swathes of the economy have been flattened. Hundreds of older people lie dead in their graves, after a series of disasters in the management of the pandemic in nursing homes.

It is perfectly acceptable, it seems, for a family of Canadians or Americans to arrive in and tour the country for a week, but it is an unacceptable risk for a bachelor farmer to go down to his local pub on a Thursday evening for two pints.

Facemasks, which for months the Government insisted were unnecessary, are now vital and compulsory. They went from telling doctors in hospitals not to wear them, to telling us all that leaving home without one is a crime.

And in all of this, “flatten the curve” has, it seems, been totally forgotten.

Throughout all of this, the media narrative in Ireland was the same: Dublin was playing a blinder, every other English-speaking country was making a mess of it. The orgy of establishment back-slapping that went on in April, and May, and June, is only beginning, now, to fade.

The curve in Ireland was, indeed, flattened – at great cost in lives. Nursing homes were effectively triaged, their elderly patients effectively deemed too hard to save. And having flattened the curve, the Government has now forgotten entirely that this is what it set out to do, and is now moving on to flattening the country, parts of which will not recover for a generation.

The Government, of course, is not solely to blame. A cohort of Irish people have decided in recent weeks that the virus is “fake”, and started using nonsense terms like “plandemic”, or “scamdemic”. These are the people who tell you on facebook that the whole thing is a Bill Gates plot to inject you with a vaccine, or an attempt at population control. There are others, too, as we saw in Kilkee at the weekend, who just don’t give a damn about the common good, and are going to party away anyway.

Pandemics present collective action problems that are becoming increasingly apparent. The Government is not responsible for the behaviour of every idiot who decides that they are immune, or that the virus is not real. But it is, very much, responsible for setting its policy objectives, and being clear about what it wants to achieve.

The Irish government is not clear about what it wants to achieve. If it wanted to flatten the curve, then it has succeeded, and it must allow some semblance of normal life to return. If it wants to eradicate the virus altogether, then it must suspend all inward travel, and go back to a full lockdown. As it is, all it is managing to do is to flatten the country, and flatten the lives and mental health of thousands of its own people.


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