CORONAVIRUS NEEDS PRUDENT BUT PROPORTIONATE RESPONSE

7 March 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard

CORONAVIRUS NEEDS PRUDENT BUT PROPORTIONATE RESPONSE

Every period of human history can be seen as having some predominant unease circulating in the collective consciousness of society. The nature of the unease changes with time, place and historical period but nearly always it is a manifestation of the primal fears hotwired into the human condition and which the author of the Book of Revelation chose to embody in the dread personages of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and their assigned cargo of war, famine, death and pestilence.

The last of those four has long stalked the landscape of developed society in the form of intermittent fears about a global pandemic sparked by a new form of virus or bacteria which is virulent, immune to existing remedies and possessed of the potential to disrupt the functioning of the prosperous and well-ordered regions of the world.

The “superbug” fear has been with us for some time now, its intermittent real-life manifestations complemented as an inciter of fear and instability by its emergence in various forms of mass culture. The emergence of the coronavirus has brought the unease out of the recesses of the mind and into the real world we inhabit with increasing insistence this week. As two cases emerged in Ireland, surely only the prelude to many more to follow, information and precautionary advice about the virus suddenly became ubiquitous and what was once a “what if…” fear at the back of our minds quickly assumed tangibility, with a multitude of potential practical implications from the spread of the virus demanding attention at individual, community, regional, national and international levels.

Our government and our health services have a difficult task in the days, weeks and months ahead. They have to respond expediently to what is likely to be a constantly evolving situation and walk that fine line between communicating information in a manner that ensures the spread of the virus is slowed by the adoption of sensible precautions, and communicating information in a manner that lights the already smouldering blue touch paper of panic, rumour and anarchy.

In these very early stages of dealing with what is an extremely important, somewhat complex and constantly changing public health issue, the relevant national agencies and the Department of Health and its Minister Simon Harris have all struck an encouragingly judicious balance between keeping the public properly informed and avoiding the incitement of hysteria. In a world where people get their information from a variety of sources, not all of which have transparent or reputable provenance, it is essential that what is being conveyed on official channels of information about the coronavirus and how best to protect ourselves from it is widely accessible, clearly understood and proportionate in its precautions and constraints.

The responsibility on the media at times such as this is a particularly onerous one, often requiring its own exercise in fine balance.

The public’s right to know must be weighed against the right of individuals to privacy, and the seriousness of the risk to public health at any given point in time must be assessed and presented as accurately as possible, neither downplayed nor sensationalised.

Not all Irish media outlets have passed the fine balance test in these early stages of living with, and living through, the coronavirus. But in the main our newspapers and broadcast news streams, and their online counterparts, have given due weight and seriousness to the issue while mostly managing to sidestep the over-simplification or exaggeration that are the eternal pitfalls of communications media under increasing public and commercial pressure to reduce everything down to sound byte and tabloid column, regardless of the complexity and often contested nature of the issues underpinning the news. But the most essential role in ensuring the threat and spread of the coronavirus is managed successfully falls to the general public to play.

Taking heed of the advice now widely displayed across our communities on how to reduce risk or react if exposure is threatened or confirmed is an obvious requirement. But there is also an onus on us all to look beyond the cautionary advice and educate ourselves thoroughly and accurately about the nature of this particular health threat – in that way public opinion is bulwarked against over-reaction, panic and hysteria and is better able to discern and discriminate between information that is factual and helpful and claims that are alarmist and not backed by statistical force or authoritative expert medical opinion.

We need to be prudent in how we react to public health threats, but we also need to be proportionate. As the world continues to hold a watching brief on the coronavirus and its spread, it is sensible to keep our fingers to our lips and away from the panic button.

SHAMEFUL INEPTITUDE

Ask people from new communities who have made their home in Ireland what they think about our health services and you will get two chief responses: praise and respect for the high standards of professionalism delivered by general practitioners and frontline medical, surgical and nursing staff in our hospitals, but incredulity at the inefficiency and incompetence that infests the administration of Irish healthcare.

It is sometimes good to see ourselves through the new eyes of people encountering our national ways and features for the first time. But it can be a chastening experience to hear people from nations with less resources and less reputation for social and economic advancement voice the conclusion that the way in which health services are run in their native lands is infinitely superior to what they encounter in Ireland.

But when one looks at situations such as the long wait for the opening of the group home in Carrickmacross provided for people with physical and sensory disabilities, such damning verdicts are understandable.

Whoever is responsible for this state of the art facility – that is urgently needed to ensure its potential service users are looked after in a safe and high-functioning environment – being left lying idle is guilty of the most shameful ineptitude. Sinn Féin member of Monaghan Co Council Colm Carthy, backed by his colleagues on the Carrickmacross- Castleblayney Municipal District, has been raising the issue with consistency and considerable forbearance over recent years, carrying on the campaign to see the facility brought into being initiated by his brother, the former MEP and now TD Matt Carthy.

Despite the lobbying efforts of local authority members and politicians at national level, despite the clear need for the facility and the worries for the future that the ageing parents of its potential occupants are going through, despite the fact that work on the facility has been fully completed and exhaustively fine-tuned, the HSE cannot find the money in its annual budget treasury to staff the group home and ensure it can open its doors and deliver its services.

Worse still, the health mandarins appear to have run out of excuses and gone completely to ground on the issue, with appeals made at Monaghan Co Council level in recent months for explanations and answers being met by only deafening and insulting silence.

The situation is beyond disgraceful. It is inexcusable and inhumane. It is eloquent of the lack of transparency and accountability in the structures responsible for the nation’s health that such incompetence is not only not punished, but appears to be covered over and indulged.

The latest attempts by Monaghan Co Council to find out what is going on deserve to be met by more than justifications and excuses.

The HSE should inform the local authority and the South Monaghan public that it is opening the Carrick group home in the very near future. There is no other response that could be deemed acceptable.

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