Next Monday, the Global Alcohol Policy Convention will hold its annual conference in Dublin Castle, organised in partnership with the Department of Health. Over 1,000 people are expected to attend, from all parts of the world, including areas that are struggling and failing to contain the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak. The Department of Health are, at present, refusing to cancel it, despite unilaterally cancelling the Ireland-Italy Rugby match that was scheduled for just a few days later.
The World Health Organisation told Sky News this morning that there is “no event” without a risk of the Coronavirus:
World Health Organisation spokesman tells Kay Burley at Breakfast "there is no event without a risk" of coronavirus
— Sky News Breaking (@SkyNewsBreak) March 3, 2020
Indeed, it’s notable that one of the main spreaders of the illness in Europe was a so-called “super-spreader” who attended a similar sized conference in Singapore:
The third British case was a man in his 50s who contracted the coronavirus infection at a conference in Singapore. He then travelled to France where he stayed with his family in a ski chalet in the Alpine resort of Les Contamines-Montjoie. Five people who were in the chalet, including a boy of nine, have tested positive for coronavirus since the man came back to the UK on an easyJet flight and was diagnosed in Brighton. Another Briton who was on holiday in the chalet flew back to his home in Mallorca and was admitted to hospital in Palma. The chief medical officer said four more people had tested positive in England – all of whom were also on the skiing holiday in France.
So why did the department of health recommend the cancellation of a rugby match, while it is proceeding with a conference on alcohol policy, which Minister Harris’s Coronavirus supremo Tony Holohan says he himself will be attending, along with the Minister himself?
The question was put to Holohan at yesterday’s Coronavirus press conference by Ciara Phelan, a reporter with the Irish Daily Mirror. The exchange starts at 11.45 into the video below:
Holohan’s answer here doesn’t make much sense. He says that there were “specific” factors relating to the cancellation of the Irish Rugby game, relating to the travel of people from an affected area (northern Italy). But of course, there are no day to day restrictions on travel from that part of the world. Indeed, both confirmed cases on the island to date are connected to travel from Northern Italy through Dublin Airport. As many people that want to come to Ireland from the infected area are free to come, at will, even today.
The risk, therefore, by his own logic, is not in the travel, but in the congregation of people at events that are large in scale. 1,000 people from around the world assembling in one hotel or conference venue is a large event by anybody’s reckoning, but this one, apparently, is going ahead. Why?
It’s notable, that when asked, Holohan can’t rule out transmission of the virus taking place at the Alcohol policy conference. Indeed, he’d be stupid to do so, because he’d look a fool afterwards. But you also don’t need to be a medic to recognise that the virus is transmitted at close quarters, and a sick person infecting all the people sitting around them is as likely at an event of 1,000 people as it is at a Rugby match.
Indeed, the consequences of such an infectious event at the conference are obviously greater. The Rugby match, by and large, would have been attended mainly by Irish people, and Italians. The alcohol conference will be attended by people from around the planet. The latter event risks sending the virus to all parts of the planet, whereas the Rugby match is much less likely to do so.
Indeed, a single person with an infection can cause immense damage at an event indoors where people are sitting in close quarters, as South Korea found out last week:
A so-called superspreader infected at least 37 people at her church with the new coronavirus, and dozens of additional worshippers are also showing symptoms of the disease, called COVID-19, according to news reports.
The 61-year-old woman attends the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in Daegu, South Korea, according to the international news outlet AFP. The city, located in the southern part of the country, is home to about 2.5 million people. The woman, called “Patient 31” by Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, developed a fever on Feb. 10 and attended four church services before being diagnosed with COVID-19.
It’s not as if the Global Alcohol Policy Convention is a particularly important event, either. The Irish Government has repeatedly demonstrated in recent years that it needs no help from conferences to develop new nanny state policies when it comes to raising the price and lowering the availability of alcohol. In terms of priority events, this one hardly warrants a mention. The country will, you’d imagine, survive without a bunch of academics coming together to discuss the benefits of higher taxes on wine and alcopops.
Indeed, the departments’ treatment of its own conference isn’t even consistent with its own policy towards other events. Look at this, from yesterday, where some people were told not to attend a citizenship ceremony if they didn’t meet certain criteria (emphasis mine):
“The Department of Justice, in consultation with health authorities, had asked candidates and their guests who had returned from a Covid-19-affected region in the past 14 days, or who believed they had symptoms, not to attend.
About 60 people had postponed by Monday morning, and a short ceremony will be held in Killarney in April to accommodate this group, a spokesman said. Exactly how many cancelled because of the virus was not clear, as weather was a factor in some cases.”
So, let’s get this straight: If you are an Irish person who has been overseas in the past two weeks, in an infected area, you can’t attend an Irish Government sponsored event. But if you are coming from an infected area to attend a Department of Health conference on alcohol, come on in?
It’s a farce, and, as so often, it makes absolutely no sense.
The only alcohol the department should be concerned with is the alcohol in the hand sanitizers that the country appears to be rapidly running out of.