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Come on: “Regional Lockdowns” are a nonsense idea

“Regional lockdown” is the buzzword in the media this morning, in response to the new outbreak of Coronavirus, which seems to be centered on meat factories in the eastern midlands:

HEALTH OFFICIALS HAVE said they cannot rule out a regional lockdown in Kildare, Laois and Offaly after a significant rise in the number of confirmed cases across the three counties.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will today announce further advice and measures to control the spread of Covid-19 in the midlands counties.

Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ronan Glynn said almost half the new cases over the past two weeks were located in those counties and warned members of the public to “double down” their efforts to follow public health advice.

A question which is conspicuously absent from the media coverage of these warnings, despite the fact that it is an obvious question, is this: How on earth would a regional lockdown work?

If, for example, one was to shut down all public amenities in Kildare, what is there to prevent Kildare people from using public amenities in Dublin? Will there be a military or garda presence on the county boundary, ensuring that the locals are staying cooped up in their own county, and not leaving? (And if this works, can we deploy it permanently for Cork?)

There are also significant implications for regional lockdowns that nobody is thinking about. If, for example, a regional lockdown means that schools in that region are closed for six weeks, or a month, what happens at next year’s leaving and junior certs? You would have a very convincing argument to be made that students in Kildare and Laois and Offaly were going into those exams at a comprehensive disadvantage compared to their compatriots in Limerick and Galway.

And what about college students? Can somebody from Straffan who is studying in Limerick come home for the weekend, and go back on Monday? And if not, who is going to stop them, precisely?

And what about those who live in one county, but work in another? Dublin is basically staffed these days by middle income workers who can’t afford to live in Rathgar, and who spend hours of every day on the train, trooping in and out to their job at facebook, or some other soulless multinational. What’s the point of a regional lockdown if those people are allowed to commute? So won’t we have a situation where employers and businesses in perfectly safe parts of the country are disadvantaged because their healthy workers can’t go to work?

The intangible, in all of this, of course, is public buy-in. Are people in these counties really going to accept mass restrictions that apply to them, but not to their neighbours across the border, just because of some localised outbreaks. The original lockdown, of course, was successful mainly because of public co-operation, not because of rigid enforcement. It will be much more difficult to convince people that their specific locality is the problem, rather than there being a national crisis.

It will also become remarkably difficult to sustain because of political pressures and allegations of unfair treatment, which are as certain as the sunrise. Government TDs in a county that is subject to a regional lockdown will find life very uncomfortable, especially as marginal differences between places that are locked down, and those that are not, become apparent. “Why is Cavan locked down with 22 cases when Sligo has 15 cases and has not been locked down? Sure our cases were all in one factory, but theirs are far more spread out”

The more they think about this idea, the more the problems with it will become apparent. Ireland is, in any case, too small to divide into different regions for the virus in this way. We’re going to go back to more national restrictions, or we’re not going to go back to any restrictions at all.

Anyway, I’m off on my holidays to South Kerry. See you all in ten days – assuming my wife and I are allowed to come home again.

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