It’s interesting how the framing of the Covid crisis is beginning to subtly change. There seems to be a realisation that this is going to be long war, not a short campaign. The news of two new Covid deaths in Northern Ireland is carried by most major titles...
Both victims were aged between 60-79. One of the deaths took place in the Newry, Mourne and Down council area, and the other was in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon.
A further 125 people tested positive for coronavirus in the 24 hours until Monday, according to the DoH. The total number of cases now stands at 9,466, which includes 1,014 identified in the last seven days.
In mainland UK there are concerns in both Scotland and England that the testing regime will not have the capacity to deal with a new, second surge of the disease. As the summer comes to an end, there are huge concerns about rising infection rates across Europe.
There are concerns too as to how well we have learned the lessons over what is needed to protect the most vulnerable, can we maintain two-track health services capable of maintaining vital cancer services, and help with other life-threatening conditions.
But there are ways we are likely to be better prepared. Most countries now have had time to stockpile PPE, hand santiser, and other mundane items that suddenly became essential (and scarce) early last Spring. On top of that, Italians no longer hug, the French no longer kiss and we don’t shake hands.
Most of us can wash our hands (and I’m not being facetious), and although there’s a debate on face masks amongst some, most of us now have one and have just about drilled ourselves to make sure we have it before head out to the shops. The hysterical guessing about who is ahead of whom has abated.
The key is now going to be how to change pace to accommodate to the longevity of the community infection stage of the diseases, whilst allowing the economy to recover. That’s going to be fraught with issues and problems, not least because economic and public health needs are so often in conflict.
Micheál Martin shipped a lot of criticism because on the day he announced his government’s medium-term (six to nine months) National Framework for living with Covid 19, Dublin was told it would go to a partial lockdown. Unfortunate timing, and a brave decision to screw it up by putting comms second to public health.
The opposition attacked the plan but in fact, it largely amounted to a criticism of the timing of the launch, so that pretty much by the end of the week as the media began to recover its wits again and the Taoiseach made his address to the nation, and the voluble opposition has quietly rowed in behind him.
With a framework, perhaps out will go the amateur epidemiology, the random use of R numbers, the “we’re all doomed” and “let’s get back to work” brigades. In his interview with Brendan O’Connor on Saturday, he emphasised the importance of resilience, flexibility, and willingness to change.
All things that are not only possible they’re highly desirable. As we’re told from an early age, nature abhors a vacuum and so do we. Frameworks particularly matter in the present, fast-moving world in that they provide a clear space through which an emergent strategy can grow.
As Richard Wilson noted in last week’s Cargo Of Bricks complexity (facing the consequences of a novel virus, and then the consequences of the consequences is complex) can only be tackled one stage at a time and by asking all along the way as much help and support for the population as people can afford.
In the Sunday Business Post, the former DG of the HSE Tony O’Brien makes a point in his criticism of Martin by saying that “Fianna Fáil simply doesn’t get how news consumption has changed since it last left office”, arguing this is because the party has “always been pre-occupied with information control”.
There may be something in this, but I think he may be missing how the massive quantity of news consumption has become an obsession for journalists and politicians but not necessarily the public itself which buying and listening to much less of it than in those previous times.
The Irish government’s shift is almost akin to the weekend’s time trial in the Tour de France in which most canny riders swapped their speed bikes for a road bike as they headed up towards the ski station at La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges Mountains. There had to be a change of pace.
On Friday night, he put an end to the chatter…
— Fianna Fáil (@fiannafailparty) September 18, 2020
There has to be a change of pace here too. As with Tadej Pogačar and his team that takes time, preparation, teamwork, and reconnaissance. And then it is a matter of seeing who has the legs over the whole race, not just one day. Martin’s rating is low even by recent low levels of trust in government.
And he has a lot of tough decisions to make for a population which will not relish putting its life on hold for another six months. Having a plan and a system that will become more familiar over time through its repetition ought to help, but it is how he innovates policy that will make the difference.
He faces one hell of a hill climb… let’s hope if only for his sake, he has the legs for it.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty