There are two questions – and ONLY two questions – that matter for Ireland:
How do we get rid of the virus?
How do we ensure this never happens again?
The second question is less immediately urgent than the first, but significantly more important. If we can’t protect ourselves from deadly, contagious viruses, then the Irish are not long for this world. Protecting the nation from external threats is a central function of government, but have you heard anyone in government bring it up? Has anyone in the media asked the question? Have the finest minds on NPHET attempted to answer it? I don't think so. I'm not sure they even care.
Ireland's Leaders Ignored The Warnings
In the last 20 years we have seen SARS, Swine Flu, MERS, and the Zika Virus. Each one was a warning shot, but the developed world ignored them all.
SARS spread to 30 countries on every continent, killing 10% of those infected.
The 2009 Swine Flu epidemic was upgraded to a pandemic when they did some extra research and realised it had killed at least 10 times as many people as previously thought. The minimum estimate is 150,000 people, but it could be closer to 600,000.
MERS had a case fatality rate of over 30%. It was so scary that health care workers refused to treat patients, and who could blame them? MERS continues to circulate in the Middle East and there is no vaccine or treatment for it.
The WHO was so concerned about the risk of a major influenza-like pandemic that in 2018 it created a hypothetical disease – Disease X – as another warning to the world, adding it to the WHO’s list of Priority Diseases. The next year the WHO was even more explicit, using the foreword to its Annual Report on Global Preparedness to say:
“Outbreaks have been on the rise for the past several decades and the spectre of a global health emergency looms large… The world is not prepared.”
Did anyone in Ireland's government read that report? Did Dr. Tony Holohan read it? He has been Ireland's CMO since 2008 and Deputy CMO since 2001. The WHO has produced a lot of reports on pandemic-influenza in the last 20 years. He has been in charge through every one of the outbreaks listed above. Why was Ireland so unprepared for this outbreak when he had so much experience and so much advice to work from?
Three months later, and the WHO’s repeated warnings were finally proved right. A mysterious pneumonia-like disease was discovered in Wuhan, China and the developed world – and especially the EU – was still too complacent to react. Within 12 months, millions had died and tens of millions more were suffering with long-term health damage.
There have been waves of business closures and bankruptcies, communities torn apart, civil disorder, and tens of trillions of dollars added to the global national debts for no long-term benefit. And still the politicians and policymakers treat it like it is any other day at the office.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Was Preventable
Even more depressing is the fact that it was all preventable. All pandemics are preventable. Local outbreaks or epidemics are unavoidable, but pandemics – global epidemics – can always be prevented. All it takes is coordinated international travel restrictions and some preparation. If everyone in the EU had followed Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, most of Asia and Africa, the USA, Italy and many others in blocking travel from China good and early, the outbreak would have been suppressed.
Unfortunately, the EU's leaders are ideologically attached to the free movement of people. It's a central part of the EU vanity project, and they couldn't let it go, even when it threatened the lives of their own people. (But, empires are like that.) Ireland's leaders were only too happy to follow the EU off the cliff. Worse still, the EU became a petri dish for the virus, and the launchpad for its assault on the developing world. Another major crime that will likely go unpunished.
As a Millennial, I expect to see at least one, probably two, and possibly three or more pandemic-potential viruses in my lifetime. Whether these viruses actually result in pandemics will depend on the actions we take in response to this crisis. Yes, we have the power to prevent these things from happening. We also have the power to screw it up for the next generation. The choice is ours.
The good news is that the systems that we need to create in order to get rid of this virus, are the same systems that will protect us from the next one. We need a robust contact-tracing system. We need strong border controls. We need rapid testing capacity. We need stockpiles of masks and PPE. We need emergency structures that allow us to react quickly to global threats and other emergencies. We need decision-making frameworks that streamline our decisions and that provide forward guidance to all stakeholders in uncertain environments. And we need a plan to tie it all together.
That is our homework. That is what Ireland needs to do. The Irish COVID Action Network has been created to make sure it gets done. We will do whatever it takes to ensure that the Irish people and the island of Ireland will never have to go through this again.