Is it time for a different approach?

Updated: May 3

March 2020; In the lead up to St. Patrick Weekend, Ireland announced the closure of its Pubs, the first in a series of restrictions that quickly escalated into a full-scale lockdown of society. Initially expected to last two weeks, we remained under the strictest of lockdowns well into the summer and in reality, never left a spectrum of lockdown with marginal respite in August/September and again briefly around Christmas.

Since New Year we have remained at the highest level of lockdown. Three months have passed and cases remain disappointingly high relative to expectation. This length of lockdown has been the most draconian in Europe and despite WHO advises against longterm lockdowns such as this, the government continue their position on remaining at level 5 with marginal incremental easing over the coming months subject to review.

The gov.ie roadmap is as follows;

Immediately those who completed their vaccine does (Two weeks from receipt of the second jab) are now permitted to meet another fully vaccinated person indoors without masks. This appears to be the start of the privileges reserved for a minority lucky enough to have received the vaccine, while the majority of us sit and wait for the government and corporates to do in Ireland what has been done significantly faster in the UK and others. How long before restaurants and other similar businesses who are entitled to open up for outdoor dining demand that those who are vaccinated be allowed to dine indoors while the rest of us are left outside with the dogs.

From April 12; schools reopen and you can meet one other household outside, but not in your Garden. You can also travel within your county or 20KM from home if you cross a county boundary. Residential construction can also resume.

Elite sports can resume, while the GAA can restart training and playing of inter-county National Gaelic Games Leagues (not including under 20 or minors) from April 19. Interestingly the rest of us have to wait another week (April 26) before we can play outdoor sports like Golf and Tennis. I’d love someone to explain to me why? It's hard to imagine 30 or so people playing contact sports on a pitch is less risky than let's say me and my partner going for a round of golf or playing tennis and the risk been reduced a week later.

Also from April 26 outdoor visitor attractions can reopen (except for Amusement parks) and funeral numbers can increase to 25.

Under consideration for May, 4 will be religious services, museums, galleries, libraries etc, personal services and phased reopening of non-essential retail and full reopening of the construction sector.

All subject of course to the condition of the “public health situation.’ In other words how many cases we have which will most likely be influenced by the success or failures of the vaccine rollout. Are we confident our government can stick to plan… this time?

One has to ask is this the same for every other country?

No, it's not! Not every country has experienced the same draconian lockdown especially not for this duration. Although reports come in about other countries ‘increasing restrictions’, these same reporters rarely talk about how other countries enjoyed significantly more freedom than we have in the past year and have gone as far as demonising countries that attempted to prioritising ‘living’.

One might forgive initial lockdowns as the situation was unprecedented, but twelve months on, understanding should have grown to a point where we adapt to the virus, but in Ireland, our government seems to be mindlessly abusing the acquiescence of the Irish people by continuing the same rhetoric of ‘doubling down.’ Blaming minorities for breaking the rules when in fact as leaders of this country our government are responsible for managing the people and it is their failings that result in a growing number of people become jaded.

Our government are so fixated on case numbers to care about the continued sacrifices thousands of us have made over the past months as they continue on their hysterical strategy while the opposition mindlessly calls for a zero COVID strategy… They promise light at the end of the tunnel, but for some of us, it feels more like an oncoming train as talks continue about those who receive the vaccine getting freedoms the rest of us will be denied until the vaccine trickles down to us.

Maybe it's time to take a different approach?

Many countries have restrictions, agreed, but manage them significantly better. Quite a few places focus on keeping life as unaffected as possible. Some countries even went as far as avoiding lockdowns entirely. Iceland, South Korea and Taiwan for example didn’t lockdown. Instead directed resources towards mass testing and contact tracing. Sweden and Japan avoided lockdowns too. Japan hasn’t the authority to issue nationwide lockdowns.

Sweden allows its citizens to use ‘common sense’ instead of authoritarian rule by the government. Sweden has been heavily demonised nationally and internationally for their approach, while many graduates and young people from across Europe continue to flock there to escape the lockdowns of their home counties, living in tiny hostel dorms.

“It feels good to be existing as a young person should be existing.” This is how one international describes it after fleeing to Sweden to escape the “accosted” living he feels in Ireland. DW News goes into a little more on this here.

Brazil, Cambodia and some US states including Iowa, Arkansas, Nebraska, both Dakotas’ and Wyoming didn’t issue stay at home orders.

Although it would be useful to look at each of these counties, this is for a later article. In this article lets focus on one;

South Korea.

Population: 51.7 Million

Case: 107K

Deaths: 1756

So yes South Korea did avoid a full-scale lockdown. Now when you break the surface of this statement it's not as utopian as one may imagine with some similarities to us and some quite spine-tingling methods utilised that might be difficult to digest in the west, none the less there are lessons we could learn and adapt here to give us just a little more freedom because unlike us, South Koreans were not criminalised for leaving 5Km from their homes. South Korea learned very hard lessons from the MERs crisis back in 2015 and in doing so invested significantly in their hospitals, having a bed capacity of 12.3 per 1,000 people. But where South Korea excelled was in its detection, containment and treatment strategies.

Detection

Within a week of the first case detected private contractors had begun rolling out test kits and by March 100,000 were distributed with an average between 15,000 and 20,000 tests carried out per day by the end of April and by November that figure reached 110,000 per day. 600 screening centres were set up in strategic locations include their main airport and hospital gates. Such screenings included Drive-Thru and phone booths style testing facilities which ensured health workers weren’t in direct contact with patients. By late March 300,000 screens were completed.

Containment

Those who travelled into the country would face a 14 day quarantining period. If you are a citizen family member of a citizen or long term resident this could be carried out at home or place of residence. If you were not a resident a quarantine facility was provided paid for at your own expense. Like, a lot of other countries a PCR test was also required before boarding your flight. Visa Waivers were suspended.

Public spaces were retrofitted into isolation wards to help hospital capacity or to allow people to isolated away from family. Those who tested positive or close contact (There is a distinction between casual and close contact in their approach) faced very strict conditions. They were required to self-isolate using an app and would receive check-ins from authorises twice daily. Location data on one's phone would be used and those found in breach would be forced to wear an electronic tag bracelet that connected with the app and monitored your distance from your device.

Although this sounds quite draconian the state was not oblivious to the fact and made mental health a priority by establishing a national psychological support team that would support those in quarantine.

Contract tracing was also heavily invested with access to personal data such as CCTV, credit card transitions and cellular data combined with patient interviews to assist in tracing potential contacts. A KI-Pass system using QR codes were utilised as a sign-in sheet function at bars etc. Although data was not retained beyond 14 days it demonstrates how electronic data is been utilised to aid in the tracking.

South Korea has a five-tier approach to restrictions; Level 1, Level 1.5, Level 2, Level 2.5 and Level 3.

Level 1 "everyday quarantine" their least strictest tier when cases are less than 100 daily cases in a week in the capital (10 cases for Gangwon and Jeju)

At this level, masks and hand sanitising is advised. high-risk areas like pubs limit their patrons to 1 person per 4 Square meters and 1 Meter apart in Restaurants and cafes. Schools operate at 2/3 capacity.

Level 2 - Ban on events with numbers greater than 100, Cafes Restaurants open until 9 Pm Take out after that. Schools 1/3 capacity. At least 1/3 of staff allowed to work from home

Level 3 - Their strictest tier has not been utilised. But in this event school and religious ceremonies are online only. (Religion applied this from Level 2.5. Essential workers only can work outside the home. Cinemas, restaurants, cafes, hair salons, bathhouses should close and events of 10 or more people banned.

Now Level three may seem similar to us, however, there is no ban on let's say household visits but just advice urging against indoor gatherings and socialising. so one would assume there is no restriction on meeting friends or family at home or in parks once such gatherings do not exceed 10 people. But most importantly no restriction on leaving one house so one can go for a hike or go beyond 5KM for more than just essential business.