Self evident that we need an all-island approach

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There is a Covid-19 border in the Irish Sea just as there is a sanitary and phyto-sanitary border in the Irish Sea which means animals and plants coming into the island need to be inspected and cleared for entry. Why? In case they bring in some infection or invasive species which will spread across the island or further afield, which is why the EU is so anxious to monitor animals and plants entering the north from outside the EU.

As Britain struggles with how to exit lockdown a whole rake of experts in epidemiology and virology in Ireland have been strenuously arguing that in the next phase of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic the island of Ireland should act as one unit. Dr Gabriel Scally, President of the Epidemiology and Public Health section of the Royal School of Medicine, has written extensively in this paper, the Irish Times and the Guardian that to do otherwise will “cost lives”. Professor Sam McConkey, infectious disease expert at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, agrees. Professor Liam Glynn at Limerick says, “Anything other than an all-Ireland approach is bananas.” He admits that won’t happen “without collaboration at the highest political level”. No expert in the north has disagreed, note.

The north has followed Britain’s zig-zag route over the past two months. “We’re following the science,” Arlene Foster intones in her defence, but it turns out that’s not true. Britain rejected scientific advice. As Keir Starmer told parliament, Britain was “too slow, way behind the curve”, behind other European countries, but in fact Johnson chose the wrong direction in March and his incompetent Cabinet has been setting fantastical targets, chasing to catch up ever since.

Far too late, Britain began to follow the science resulting in shortage of PPE and the testing shambles we have here when NHS staff couldn’t get tests until recently. It was weeks before the British government began to follow the proven successful route advocated by the WHO – test, trace, isolate – which places like Germany and island states like New Zealand and Iceland followed. Contact tracing here is virtually non-existent. In a place the north’s size the whole population could have been tested; they came close it in Iceland. Comprehensive testing is only just beginning here.

We have our own chief medical officer here as Arlene Foster says. It is not clear why the CMO didn’t opt for an all-island approach. Last week he told the Stormont Health committee testing was being expanded, even though it was abandoned six weeks ago in thrall to Britain.

Did he advocate the north coordinate with the south? After all, although he’s on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), he’s only an observer, unlike Johnson’s infamous non-scientific Special Adviser Cummings. The CMOs for the colonised parts of the UK have to submit written questions, but can’t speak. SAGE couldn’t care less what the north did; it wasn’t even included in their modelling in March. So the north could have really followed the science.

And don’t talk about the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two CMOs on the island on April 8. Read it, and you’ll find that the UUP-led Department of Health here ensured that every paragraph has a caveat ensuring the north can resist coordination; it was window dressing.

Equally astonishing is why no MLA on the Health committee asked the CMO the crucial question, why not? Why don’t you advocate what experts in the Republic say is essential? Let’s hear in public the medical and scientific reasons for not doing it because they’ve never been aired. That would be interesting. The answer to the question ‘why not’, is often instructive if not always illuminating. Is the answer simply because unionist ministers are agin it? Very scientific.

Are we really going to have shops and hairdressers open and journey distances extended at different times north and south for political reasons?

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