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Justice Minister: It might be time to arrest people who leave their county

Bad news for people like me, who live in Tipperary but do the shopping in Limerick. Oh well. Looks like Nenagh’s Lidl is getting at least one new customer:

Why stop there, though? As the East Germans learned, even prohibitions on movement don’t stop all travel, even when you have a world-famous secret police force. In the end, they had to build a wall across Berlin to stop people leaving.

As a Monaghan native, though, I’m quite in favour of a wall along the Cavan border. With razor wire on top, preferably.

Jokes aside, the obvious question is whether she’s serious, or whether this is just an attempt to scare people into compliance: “Don’t cross the county border, Paddy, you’ll end up in the ‘Joy”.

We couldn’t enforce this, as a country, even if we wanted to. There simply are not enough gardai to cover the thousands of little roads that allow people to traverse the countryside. Random garda checkpoints on main roads is one thing – actually criminalising travel between counties is quite another, even on a purely practical level.

Anyway, if she is trying to scare people, she’s not alone. Here’s Dr. Sam “Covid Zero” McConkey, warning that not only might it be a crime to visit Cork (finally), but that it might be a crime to leave your own home:

Professor Sam McConkey has warned that we could see curfews under a Level Six lockdown.

This drastic new Level could see draconian curfews where people are ordered to stay locked down in their homes after ten o’clock at night.

The medical expert was responding to criticisms that NPHET has gone too far in recommending escalating our lockdown alert to Level Five.

But Professor McConkey warned that it could be worse and that we could see lockdowns at “Level Six, Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten.”

If level six is a curfew, then what, exactly, is level ten? Summary executions for sneezing?

The problem with this absurd authoritarianism, of course, is that people will just ignore it, absent the risk of being shot by a Garda. And the more people ignore it, the more authoritarian the authoritarians will become. If you introduce a curfew, and people breach it in large numbers, you’ll have McConkey on the radio arguing for penal camps for those who disobey. And on, and on, it will go, reaching greater levels of absurdity.

I keep coming back to this, from the UK’s crack team of behavioural scientists, all the way back in March. At the time, if you remember, the UK was delaying its covid measures until they were absolutely necessary, and the Irish media was going mad, calling the UK government irresponsible, and wondering if they were embracing a “herd immunity” approach:

One thing that’s necessary for people to really support any kind of intervention is for it to be seen to be proportionate to the threat,” says Susan Michie, a professor of health psychology at University College London who is also a member of the scientific group advising the government’s response to Covid-19. Put in place a lockdown too early, and people may not be able to comply with it but go too late and you risk negating some of the possible public health benefits that come with wide social isolation.

In plain English: If the virus was killing one in every four people who were infected, nobody would have to worry about introducing a lockdown. People would be staying at home anyway, and avoiding all human contact, if they could.

But the problem with Covid is that most people just don’t see it as that serious. We’re an inherently selfish species: If our own chances of dying are high, then we’ll be sensible. If the risk is low, though, we’ll declare a lockdown to be a huge over-reaction and ignore it.

The Irish Government, supposedly filled with smart people, does not seem to get that. And NPHET, who you’d hope would be smarter again, seems completely ignorant to it.

That is, of course, the strongest argument against future lockdowns, and the current measures. People aren’t abiding by them anyway. And all that’s happening is that we’re sowing societal division between those who wish to be careful, and those who don’t give a monkey’s about the virus.

Let people take their chances, is my view. We’re just wasting our time with this lockdown stuff, anyway.



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