A few short days ago, the nation’s gallant Minister for Health strode purposely out of a meeting with his officials, sleeves rolled up, frown artfully affixed to his forehead, and announced to the waiting public that he had a plan to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus: He was going to cancel a rugby match.
It mattered not that at the time he was speaking, he had not even picked up the phone to the IRFU. A day later, the announcement of the cancellation was downgraded to mere recommendation. Harris would not directly cancel the match, but he was recommending that the IRFU did so.
In the 24 hours or so between the announcement and the follow up, at least seven planeloads of people arrived into Ireland from Italy.
It appears at this point that nobody took a list of their names, or tracked their whereabouts.
One person, infected with the virus, came off one of those planes and is now in isolation in a Belfast hospital.
At the time of writing, nobody knows how the sick person got from Dublin Airport to Belfast. Bus? Train? Rental car? Taxi? Anybody’s guess. But it’s at least a reasonable supposition that somebody got on a bus or a train and coughed and sneezed the whole way to Belfast.
The virus has a 27-day incubation window. It’s very possible that a whole bunch of people are now carrying the virus who do not know it, and will not know it for a month.
By the time many of them realise it, it may be too late, and other busses, and trains, and schools, and workplaces may become giant petri dishes for China’s hottest new export.
It is an absolute imperative that the sick person’s movements be forensically traced, and the route they took into Ireland, and while they were in Ireland, identified.
The people they came into contact with should be warned. Ideally, those people should be told to quarantine themselves for a month.
There has been, to date, no such action from the department of health.
It is perfectly possible, three months from now, that there will be thousands of coronavirus cases in Ireland. Many of these cases will require hospitalisation, and isolation.
Two days ago, I wrote:
But the old and the sick, of course, won’t be attending a Rugby match on a cold march day in Ballsbridge. They’ll be in the hospitals where the first patients are taken. When this virus claims Irish lives, it will almost certainly be because someone who doesn’t know they have it spends six or sixteen hours in accident and emergency coughing all over a grandmother who’s hurt her wrist.
We all know who is most at risk from Coronavirus: The elderly. Many of you reading this will have parents in their 70s and 80s. You may consider them to be in perfect health, but they are the people we risk losing if this thing is allowed unfettered access to the population.
What happens, for example, if a nursing home worker has already come into contact with, and picked up the infection? Or a nurse in a hospital who happened to be on the wrong bus on the wrong day?
The overall mortality rate may be low, but the risk to certain populations is very high.
And in a full-scale international emergency, what’s the best solution the Minister for Health has come up with? Cancelling a rugby match.
It’s not as if the Government did not know this was coming. The infection has been spreading worldwide for over a month. It has been obvious now for at least several weeks that China’s efforts to contain it had failed. Where has the Government, and its Minister for Health been all this time?
In the normal day to day of affairs in Ireland, the Minister for Health’s utter incompetence might sometimes be a matter of amusement. He is so transparently ill-suited to his role, and so blindingly obviously incompetent, that in normal circumstances the only sensible thing to do is to roll one’s eyes in bemusement, and thank God that there’s no National Emergency that he’s in charge of.
Well now there is. And we have Simon Harris.
But don’t worry – we don’t have a Six Nations game going ahead now.
It’s all under control.