Amid warnings that health care systems in Britain and the north of Ireland were facing a potentially catastrophic meltdown, both Tories and unionists in Ireland have ended their hands-off approach to the coronavirus health crisis.
After desperate appeals from scientists, healthcare workers, educationalists and the general public, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson shifted away from a eugenics-inspired plan for ‘herd immunity’ and toward a policy of active suppression of the virus.
The move brings Britain and the north of Ireland more in line with the approach of the 26 Counties and other EU governments.
According to a report by a team of experts who have been advising the London government, the Tories only realised this week that attempts to “mitigate” the impact of the coronavirus pandemic would not work.
‘Mitigation’ involved home isolation of suspect cases and their family members, but without serious restrictions on wider society. This saw state schools kept open, an idea which was controversially endorsed by the Stormont Executive in Belfast and caused a virtual parent-teacher rebellion in the North of Ireland.
The report, published by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team, said the ‘herd immunity’ plan would exceed emergency health systems “many times over,”. It warned of extreme triage of those requiring intensive care and hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths.
However, questions remain over whether the hard-right government in London has ruled out a “cull of the weak”, as some Tories have argued for. Despite calls for the public to practice social distancing, many pubs, cafes and restaurants remain open in both Britain and the north of Ireland. The London Underground, a suspected stronghold of the disease, is still operating, albeit at a reduced level.
Despite introducing draconian legislation which includes substantial powers to electronically track and detain those who are deemed to need quarantining, Boris Johnson has himself ruled out a ‘lockdown’, and insisted the British economy would continue to function.
WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris condemned the Tory inaction. “We don’t know enough about the science of this virus, it hasn’t been in our population for long enough for us to know what it does in immunological terms, she said.
“We can talk theories, but at the moment we are really facing a situation where we have got to look at action.”
Sinn Féin’s Chief Whip at Stormont John O’Dowd lashed out at the Tories and the unionists who insisted on following them. Mr O’Dowd tweeted: “Let’s be clear, this shire [shower] of b******s are using everyone of us in some form of twisted medical experiment. Do you honestly believe the rest of Europe is wrong and this balloon and his ilk are right. If you are not angry it’s time to get angry, we are on the brink of disaster!”
The DUP First Minister Arlene Foster had said she would only close schools in the North “when we are advised on the medical evidence”, while Health Minister Robin Swann of the Ulster Unionist Party said he would “continue to be led by the science”, before both made a u-turn this week.
Mr O’Dowd made his criticism just a day after Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister made her own u-turn last Friday. Until then, Ms O’Neill had joined the other Stormont Ministers in following the advice issued at meetings of the COBRA crisis group at Whitehall in London.
In line with new and stark warnings in London hoping to avoid a health service catastrophe, Swann this week urged people to stay home, and spoke of 15,000 deaths in the North as a possible “nightmare scenario”. He urged greater social distancing to prevent “a surge of biblical proportions”.
But Republican Sinn Féin said it was clear that despite the climbdown, the British establishment had the mentality “that the poor, the old and the infirm can die”.
“This is Imperialism at its worst, and akin to what the Brits did by starving the poor of Ireland in the mid-19th century in Ireland, in starving the poor of Bengal in the mid-20th century as well as the many other instances of starving the poor, old and infirm of many other nations they misruled over the centuries.”
They said “it is clear that there is little or no regard” for the north of Ireland, and criticised the continuing lack of all-Ireland planning for the disease.
Now is the time for the people of Ireland to work in unison, they added. “Those in positions of power should make decisions for the good of the people instead of awaiting word from afar.”
By Friday evening, there were 643 cases of the disease in Ireland, 86 in the North and 557 in the 26 Counties. Four people have died, including one in the north and three in the east.