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The Corona Files: We did go too far!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a poem that is called “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and when I went to school, we had to learn it. I did exceptionally badly that day and got the worst mark on reciting the poem that I ever got in my whole school “career”. So it is a poem that I will never completely forget. One of the lines is “Die Geister die ich rief, werd ich nicht mehr los.” and that translates to “The spirits that I called, I can’t get rid of anymore.”

We are clearly still in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis (some think we are only at the beginning of it!), but a lot has happened and I am genuinely and deeply concerned about the long term effects that policy decisions had already and will have on our behaviour to each other.

The “We are all in it together!” is long forgotten and fear and panic has replaced the we-will-fight-through-this attitude from before.

I came across a whole range of scenarios that worry me! Here are just a few examples:

1) The Police State

Over the Easter weekend when the much stricter restrictions where in place a friend of mine and his partner went on a food shopping trip for his and her parents who are elderly and are cocooning. Because they live a little bit apart at the outskirts of Dublin, they had to travel a bit to shops and then to deliver the food. On their way, they were stopped at SIX garda checkpoints and they were never able to deliver the food. On one of the checkpoints an ill informed garda gave them nearly the full “E-E-E-E” treatment that was used as garda strategy that weekend. The four Es is Engagement / Explain / Encourage / Enforcement. (www.rte.ie/news/coronavirus/2020/0409/1129677-what-to-expect-from-gardai-during-covid-19-restrictions/)

They were told that they are NOT allowed to drive to their parents to bring them food despite the fact that “caring for the elderly” was clearly classed as ESSENTIAL during the Covid-19 crisis. They were also threatened with legal action if they don’t turn around. Nonsensically, the garda told them that instead they should bring all their shopping to the next garda station so that the food would be delivered by gardai to their parents. (There was no answer on how to deal with frozen food.)
Maybe this was just ONE garda on a power trip or an extremely badly briefed garda? But at another one of the six checkpoints, they were berated by a garda because two people (who live together!!!) were in the same car. :-O There is no rule or law in Ireland that disallows that.
By the way: They had to give up and turn around to avoid being prosecuted or arrested…and the parents didn’t get the food for Easter!

2) Inexcusable Misinformation

A situation that was not related to Covid-19 forced me to be in A&E in a Dublin hospital 2 weeks ago. I was there with my partner and as it is normal and natural during the waiting period and between examinations we sat next to each other and talked about what happened. The shift of the office based A&E staff had changed and the new admin at the reception had taken over. 10 minutes later he spotted us and came running out from behind his glass screen, shouting at me for not keeping a social distance. I explained to him that this was my partner who I live with. But that didn’t stop him! Instead he got even more excited and told me that this does not matter in the slightest. We are in a hospital and therefore have to keep a distance of 2m from each other.
He either didn’t understand the rules OR he was taught nonsensical rules and didn’t question them.

3) Blinding Fear

Someone I am “friends” with on Facebook wrote in a Facebook conversation
during the week:

“If people meet and don’t keep the distance at the moment, they could infect others. The infected people could die. So meeting others is akin to murder!”

I am lost for words in this case. How can any sane and sensible person draw that conclusion?? The person who wrote that clearly lost all reason and I can only conclude that this is caused by a blinding fear.

4) Attacking the people who help!

Luckily we have not reached the lowest of lows in Ireland: In the UK, Health Care workers are being attacked and abused for being “virus spreaders”. Tires of ambulances are slashed and cars of hospital employees are damaged. The ITV news on 15 April had this report:

How can it come to this? My guess is: Irrational fear, stirred by sensational media reports. This is shocking stuff!

5) No Way Out

At some point in the not toooo distant future, we will have to go back to offices again and kids will have to go to schools. But the virus will not be gone! So how will we deal with that?
In Denmark, where they are a little faster with lifting restrictions and thought about letting young children return to school first, rapidly 18,000 parents declared that they will refuse letting their kids go back to school.

How will we deal with a loosening of the restrictions? Will we also refuse to go to work? Let kids go to school? If a vaccine is another 12-18 months away, will some of us lock themselves in at home and refuse to go to work until then? How will YOU react when you have to go back to work? Enter a room again with other people inside?

In my opinion, we have definitely overdone it! We have over-egged the pudding!! And it is all based on fear that has been whipped up by our authorities, lead by the government and advised by medical officers and epidemiologists.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the lockdown was the right thing to do, BUT what did the Taoiseach do to “incentivise” the country? He said on 09 March that in Ireland 85,000 people could die from the Coronavirus. (www.independent.ie/world-news/coronavirus/up-to-85000-irish-people-could-die-from-coronavirus-in-worst-case-scenario-taoiseach-indicates-as-three-more-diagnosed-39029363.html) This was not wrong information, but it was information that was used to get us worried so that we would adhere to the restrictions.

Later on, language was used that suggested to us that our lives were in serious and immediate danger. All measures were “to save lives”. “Stay home stay safe!!” This is also not wrong, but we can’t be surprised that then many look at the other people on the same footpath as a threat to their life. Or when leaving your home to go back to work is seen as risking ones life.

And now you see where “The spirits that I called, I can’t get rid of anymore.” becomes relevant! We over did it! We became so fearful that the care that people showed for each other in the beginning turned into people being prepared to report their neighbours for the smallest Covid-19 rule infringement.

It is a little early to think about things going back to “normality”, but what type of society do we want when we are going back to a sort of normality? If you have certain preferences, don’t let others pound fears and believes in you that are counterproductive!

Assess for yourself and judge what makes sense and what doesn’t. Then check with people that you trust if your assessment is reasonably and logical. Be prepared to learn and to speak up if necessary!

Oh and never ever forget that MOST others don’t do the (questionable) things they do to hurt or harm you, but because they don’t know better. Always be compassionate!

The Corona Files: Social Distancing & Lock Down

Sobering Statistics

The Corona Virus is continuing its rampage!

At the time of writing this, there have been 271,620 infections with 87,363 recovered. And sadly 11,280 people have died. That is more than 57 (!!) Ryanair plane loads full of people and imagine how shocked we would be if only ONE plane crashed.

Risk Group or Not: Prevent!

So in actual numbers it is terrifying and a lot of us have started to feel quite anxious or at least concerned about the impact that the virus could have on our own life. It is still the case that the majority of fatalities are in an older age group and/or with people that have some underlying illnesses, but there are plenty of young people that have heart issues or asthma or other circulatory problems that could be badly affected.

If you are in a higher risk group, stay away from other people and wash your hands really well when you have touched items outside in areas where potentially infected people have been and don’t touch your face until you have washed the hands.

With these steps, you will drastically reduce the risk! You will not have to wear a mask, but if you feel safer with a mask or a scarf, then wear it. Fear and anxiety is a bad thing and it doesn’t make sense to suffer it just because you don’t want to be seen with a mask.

If you are super healthy and could have a guarantee that there are no health issues that could require you to be put on a ventilator, it would be best for you and for society as a whole to get infected asap, then completely isolate until the symptoms are totally gone and afterwards be safe from the virus AND not have the risk of being a carrier anymore. Unfortunately, though there is no such 100% guarantee.

There is very good news about immunity: Research on monkeys has shown that immunity will be achieved after an initial infection and once immunity has been achieved, then the monkey who is a second time exposed to the virus will also not pass it on to others anymore. But this research has only been done on a small test group of monkeys and we don’t know either if us human beings react exactly the same as monkeys.

Social Distancing

So to protect the risk groups, the concept of “social distancing” has been developed. The name is very unfortunate, it should be physical distancing or spatial separation, because we don’t want to move away socially from our friends, colleagues and families. But for the rest of this post I will still – reluctantly – use the bad term.

The idea behind social distancing is perfectly expressed in the graph below by @garrywarshaw.

Image

By infecting less people initially, even the multiplication (or compound) effect of an infection chain a significant reduction of total number of infections can be achieved. This is the one and only reason for social distancing.

It does SLOW DOWN the spread of the virus. Social Distancing doesn’t stop it and it also doesn’t stop that we might get infected eventually. But a calculation by a university in the UK showed that just protecting the elderly (for example by locking them away) would not be enough. There would still be 8 times more hospital beds required than they have available.

With a drastic slow down on the other hand, the cases that need to be admitted to hospital will be looked after correctly. A lot of us will still have to get infected to achieve a immunisation (herd immunity) of a larger group of people. So our attitude to an infection has to change! Nobody wants to have a 2 week long bad flu wth the risk of a hospital stay and a low – but still higher than zero – risk of death, but if we accept that it is NOT the worst case scenario if we get infected.

Stigma of Infection

Right now, it seems as if people really think negatively of someone who gets infected. :-O I call that an “Infection Stigma” and it makes absolutely no sense. Getting infected doesn’t mean the person misbehaved, it also doesn’t mean the person is and will remain to be dangerous forever, it doesn’t mean that that person has done society a dis- service and it doesn’t mean that the person will probably die anyway. Not at all!!

The person will most likely survive; has helped society to reach herd immunity faster and does not pose a risk once the two weeks of symptoms are over.

So please stop stigmatising people who got infected by the virus and stop panicking over the possibility that you might get it.

Will we have a lock down?

Nobody wants a lock down really. A lock down means that nobody is allowed to leave the house or apartment anymore unless it is to go to work, to buy food or to go to a doctor.

A lock down is NOT needed where people stick to the social distancing rules. But where people don’t adhere these rules, the only other way to ensure that they stay away from each other is to force them to stay inside.

I saw some pictures from Spain, where a cyclist was fined for going on a training cycle on his own. Yes, he broke the existing law and that is what he was fined for. But the law that he broke didn’t help to improve the Corona virus situation in the slightest. He was NO danger to himself or anyone. In Bavaria in Germany where a moderate lock down is implemented from today, the rules have been created better: You are still allowed to go for a walk as long as it is on your own or only with the people that live with you.

I can understand why the Spanish government used their all-encompassing law, it is MUCH easier to control than a more differentiated law. But this whole situation could take quite some time and rules only make sense if they help improving the situation.

So what can we do in Ireland to avoid a lock down? Simple! Adhere to the Social Distancing rules!!

When will it all be over?

This is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Virologists think that in about 2-3 months it could be over…at least for now. The problem is that when winter returns, the virus could come back.

There is another possible scenario and that assumes that the limitations or restrictions to life are less severe (e.g. schools will restart for higher classes at some point and work will resume) in that case, the restrictions could be lifted then applied again, then lifted and applied again. Whenever the virus comes back the infections will be allowed to rise and then will be controlled through the application of restrictions again. In this on-off scenario, the whole Corona / Covid-19 issue could go on for around 2 years. :-O

I heard about faster tests and a vaccine. Is that true?

Yes and no! Faster tests are being developed at the moment. They will probably be very similar to a pregnancy test where you pee on a strip that tells you instantly through a colour change if you have the virus or not. This is not as easy as it sounds because it has to have a high reliability. But research is on the right path and will probably have a solution relatively soon. Then tests will have to start, which will take another bit. Until then we only have the relatively cumbersome lab test that checks the presence of the virus in a throat swab and – as far as I know – that also can detect antibodies as indicators that you had been infected.

A vaccine is also not too far away from being developed. But even when scientists found a vaccine, that doesn’t mean that you will be able to get it. Currently vaccines needs to go through a very long and expensive trial process, which could delay the availability for patients for another 12-18 months based on current regulatory rules. But maybe the rules will have to get changed so that at least health professionals can be vaccinated earlier. But there is a risk of severe side effects and politicians have to decide if they want to accept this risk (and insure the vaccination producer against it).

What should I do for now?

Three things:
1) Stay upbeat and positive by creating a new routine during the isolated living
2) Adhere to all Social Distancing rules and if necessary, obey the lock down.
3) Keep in close contact with people that live on their own, with elderly people and with anybody else who could do with your support. Isolation is a challenge for most people and we need to be there for each other to get through it. Be proactive with your friend. Don’t wait for them to tell you they need help, but contact them regularly to check if they need anything.

We all go through the same situation and a shared experience can pull people together and will provide the support needed so that everyone can get through it. If you are strong, provide the support and if you are challenged ask for support! Let’s help each other and be there for each other!!

 

Help! Elections in Ireland – Who should I vote for?

In the past it was simple: Either you were the type who would vote every time (even if it is your first opportunity) or you are a non-voter. And if you are the voting type, then you probably had a good idea who you would vote for.

But after years of “same old, same old” even if the government was provided by different parties and coalitions, people are quite confused this time. Politicians promise the “sun, moon and stars” before an election and afterwards…they totally disappoint. And the shocking thing is that even the ones that we had put our hopes in will disappoint.

If they all disappoint should I even vote or just forget about it?

Yes you should definitely vote, because the people in government will – without a shadow of a doubt – influence your future quite significantly. And if you are not part of choosing them, then maybe your dim neighbour from down the road or the obnoxious guy in your company might have more control over your future than you do. Not good!

Yes, but if I decide to vote, WHO will I vote for?

Ideally you should compare your opinions with the opinions of the candidates in your constituency to know who to vote for. And there is a website that can help you (and it won’t take long). Go to whichcandidate.ie and answer the few questions about your opinions and then the system will compare it with the answers from candidates. The result will not be a perfect guideline, but might help you to find the right direction.

Can you tell me in general something about the parties?

Sure, the biggest problem in Irish politics is that there is too much of the same. So for eternity Fine Gael (FG) and Fianna Fail (FF) were the only two big parties and they were just alternating in government. FF was in government when the economic crisis happened and a lot of people swore that they will never forget that and will NEVER again vote for FF. But surprisingly (or maybe not), a few years of Fine Gael government (with FF’s full endorsement – they called it a “Confidence and Supply” agreement), now suddenly people will consider voting FF again just to get rid of FG.
Another unexpected thing happened with the emergence of Sinn Fein (SF). Sinn Fein has as bad bad past, considering their direct involvement in the Northern Ireland conflict and the ongoing criminality through their IRA links. But people are so disillusioned by FF and FG that they seemingly are prepared to gamble the house on Sinn Fein.
SF will definitely change things more significantly than any continuation of the FF/FG governments will, but the big question is if that change is not too risky.
“Protest Voting” (to punish a former government) is always a dangerous move, because the party you voted for could win the majority and consequently be in power for the next 4 years.

What about the other parties?

Labour and Greens were part of previous governments and didn’t necessarily impress back then. The Social Democrats and People Before Profit were not yet involved in governments before. All four will never become strong enough to lead the government, so yes, you can vote for some of their candidates, because a coalition will probably be a good thing for the country.

So if one of the parties are not so great, should I vote for an Independent candidate?

No, no, no, no!!! Do not vote for ANY independent candidate. IT is very odd that 20% of the people in Ireland are prepared to give independent candidates their vote because the Independents either achieve nothing or they will or they will sell their soul to the highest bidder of the other parties, which will totally compromise them. Independent candidates are MAYBE good for the constituency, but because they are only interested in getting re-elected, they have NO interest in national politics outside their constituency.

Shane Ross, an independent who helped the previous government, achieved great things for his constituency, but was the worst Minister for Transport.
Michael Lowry, who was once a minister and was kicked out of FG, has been described as “profoundly corrupt”. The Healy-Rae Candidates from Kerry are only interested in Kerry gaining from whatever they do. They couldn’t care less about the rest of Ireland.
So Independent Candidates are unreliable, change their opinion depending on who offers them most and would definitely run the country into the ground…as long as their own voters get an advantage.
Do NOT vote for Independents!!! NEVER! ;-)

Thanks for the advice, but I still am not sure who I should vote for!

I know, it is REALLY difficult this time. I could tell you who I would vote for, but you are not me and your opinions might be different than mine, so even telling you won’t help you much.
So, let me just remind you again of my main recommendations: NEVER vote for Independents. Always vote for the party (or parties) you want to see in government, never vote out of protest for a party that you don’t necessarily want to have running the country. Don’t just vote for a specific party because lots of other people say so! Make your own decision! Be aware that all three main parties (FG, FF, and SF) have a bad historical record and then decide whoever’s bad record you can live better with. Is it ruining the country in 2008 (Fianna Fail) or not making anything better in the last 8 years (Fine Gael) or is it the involvement in the killings in Northern Ireland (Sinn Fein)? You need to decide! On the positive side: Maybe Fianna Fail have learned how to do it better after 8 years in the opposition? Or Fine Gael needs more time to fix things better? Or Sinn Fein is a changed party since the Good Friday agreement?


Disclaimer: As you probably know, I am a foreigner and therefore I have no clue anyway (according to some commentators on public news forums), so because of that, feel free to discard my opinions completely. ;-)

Skirts for the boys? – Gender Neutral School Uniforms

St. Brigid’s National School in Greystones has decided that from September “gender neutral school uniforms” will be introduced, which means that boys will be allowed to wear skirts and girls are allowed to wear trousers.

The change was “entirely student-led” the school says and after a trigger from the students, the school checked with the parents and then decided to go ahead with the change.

On Facebook (and probably in society) this approach is praised by some and ridiculed by others.

In my opinion, it is loooong overdue to allow girls to ditch the nonsensical skirts in cold Ireland. In fact, I think everyone should be allowed to wear whatever they want, but that might still be a step to far.

Growing up in Germany where school uniforms don’t exist, I still find it odd that schools in Ireland still have school uniforms in 2019. I had many discussions with friends about this topic and understand that the opinion is that a school uniforms reduces the pressure and competition for students to wear “cool” clothes, but uniforms are part of adult life and I think we should give our kids the chance to live their individuality as long as they are in school.

The new approach in the National School in Greystones is at least a little step in the right direction. People panic about boys suddenly wearing skirts and – you know what – this is stupid argument! I would bet money on the fact that it is extremely unlikely that any of the boys will suddenly wear skirts, but why did it take until 2019 to let the girls wear trousers if they wish to? It is time to change!

However, there is still a problem in my eyes: Why do schools force kids to wear ties? Pupils in St. Brigid’s National School have to wear green ties, no matter if they are boys or girls. Can we PLEASE simplify the uniforms and make them child compatible.

www.rte.ie/news/ireland/2019/0620/1056436-st-brigids-national-school-greystones/

www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/weve-had-a-few-negative-calls-wicklow-school-on-decision-to-introduce-genderneutral-uniform-policy-38238725.html

Infuriating legal case: Aer Lingus vs. Hot Chocolate Drinker

It is absolutely infuriating when judges make stupid judgements, but it doesn’t get much better when cases are settled.

In this case, a 12 year old boy (sitting next to his dad!) got a cup of hot chocolate and some additional milk from a flight attendant on an Aer Lingus flight from Nice to Dublin. A lid was firmly on the cup!! The boy takes the cup and opens it to put the milk inside. Then he replaces the lid and when he tries to drink, the hot chocolate pours over his leg.

He gets some burns, removes his clothes in the toilet and gets first aid. After arrival in Dublin the boy is brought to hospital and makes a good recovery.

All this is described in the Breaking News article here.

But let me unpack that! A dad buys a hot chocolate for his son (because the son is 12 years of age and because it might not be too far fetched to think that the dad did pay for it, I think we can assume that the dad had some involvement). The son then takes the lid off and does not properly put it back on again. The dad doesn’t check and clearly fails in his duty of care. So now the son screwed up and the dad screwed up.

The son pours the hot drink over his leg and gets burns. Very regrettable and not a good situation for the son, but WHERE in this did Aer Lingus have any responsibility?

The dad (because the son is only 12) sues Aer Lingus for damages and Aer Lingus pays an outrageous EUR 70,000 to the son for having done absolutely nothing wrong.

You might think that doesn’t affect you, but guess who will pay the 70,000. Not the Aer Lingus shareholders from their profits! No! Ultimately you and I will pay for it in higher prices.

So you and I pay this 12 year old boy 70,000 because he messed up when he put the lid back on and because the dad didn’t bother to check. Infuriating!!

And why did Aer Lingus pay? Probably because they expected that the judge for some nebulous reasons would decide against them and then the whole mess could cost even more. The possibility that a judge could find Aer Lingus to be guilty – which probably is based on other court cases – is infuriating in itself, by the way.

Judges (in this case Judge Kevin Cross) should have the ability to throw cases like that out immediately! And people who sue anybody in such a scandalous way should be the ones that pay.

 
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