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The Corona Files: Do we really need a Lockdown?

The numbers are still growing like crazy and the situation keeps being very very difficult:

There are now nearly 600,000 confirmed infections and 27,358 people have died as a result of a Covid-19 infection. More than 900 deaths happened in Italy alone and the peak has not yet been reached. The USA and Italy have well surpassed the infection numbers of China, but the apparent total halt of new infections in China raises a lot of doubts over the accuracy of the reporting from there.

And last night (Fri 27 March 2020), Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the Lockdown for Ireland (www.rte.ie/news/2020/0327/1126904-taoiseach-announces-restrictions/). A Lockdown that many expected, but nobody wants!

Until Easter Sunday (12 April 2020) we are now not allowed to leave our homes unless leaving the home is for one of a few specifically defined reasons.

These specific reasons are: for work (if the work is essential and cannot be done from home); to buy food and household goods;  to go to a doctor or buy medical/health products; to care for others (elderly & vulnerable) or for animals AND also for brief physical exercise, but only within 2km of your home. And there should be no travel outside of 2km from your own home unless for any of the above reasons.

ALL Private gatherings with people outside of your own home are prohibited and cocooning of everybody over 70 years of age will be introduced.

This is drastic stuff and you have to wonder if it is justified or necessary. Other countries in Europe already have implemented comparable restrictions and in Italy, for example, the fines are up to EUR 3,000 if you break the rules. In Germany the fines (at least theoretically) go even up to EUR 25,000. :-O

I have to admit that when governments force restrictions like that upon their people, I am very VERY skeptical. In “normal” times, I would be outraged, but these are NOT normal times.

So does it make sense to restrict our freedom in such a way? Let’s look at the reasons and let’s search for possibly doubtful claims in the announcement:

Firstly, the idea of Social Distancing and of the partial closing down of our lives was to reduce dramatically the spread of the virus. Because it remains hidden for 5-14 days where the carrier can infect others but doesn’t show any symptoms yet, it is a high risk if virus carriers can keep moving around and continuously infect others. So the cycle has to be broken. It seems that Social Distancing, the closure of schools and work places has had a positive effect, but the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) considered the further increase of infections and deaths and therefore didn’t want to wait any longer with the Lockdown.

This makes some sense: If a Lockdown was considered at all, then now is a better time than in 1 or 2 weeks.

Dr. Tony Holohan, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer, explained that it was found that infections were especially increasing in some clusters (he mentioned 10 nursing homes and other residential facilities). This is not overly surprising because people live together in a close space. But it is mentioned as one of the reasons for the Lockdown measures.

This does NOT make much sense: Because NONE of the Lockdown measures will affect or help these clusters. People in nursing homes, residential units or prisons don’t usually go to work or travel far or go to shops. So telling the rest of the population to stay within 2km of their home doesn’t seem to improve their situation.

The “cocooning”, however, makes a LOT of sense. Since it has been found that older age groups and people with health issues are severely endangered by the virus, it is the best idea for them to stay out of harms way and to wait until the virus has disappeared. Will two weeks be enough for that? I have some doubts. So the cocooning (which should have possibly happened even earlier) might have to last longer than 2 weeks, but it definitely makes sense.

We have to ask, who will be really affected by this Lockdown? Because the majority of people that I encountered on my very rare trips outside my home last week (one for food shopping and two for a walk) did very much adhere to Social Distancing. Based on the relatively few people I met and the very light traffic, I also think that the majority of us did already stay inside and away from others.

However, it seems to have been seen as a problem that people did go out for walks and cycles etc over the weekend and this also explains why the measures were announced on a Friday evening and why An Garda Síochána has announced that they have begun a “major nationwide policing operation” to enforce the new rules, which will (only!!) run until 07:00 on Monday morning.

There is not much wrong with reducing the Sunday good-weather trips for three weekends, if it will safe lives. But you could get the feeling that Leo Varadkar and Dr. Tony Holohan could have been more open (or honest) about the real reasons?

Some with some omissions in the provided information, with some claims that might not hold up and with some sense in the whole approach, what is the overall verdict about this Lockdown?

All things considered, I think the Lockdown is a measured and justifiable step to stop the spread of infections, but I really hope that the goal is not anymore to just “flatten the curve” (of new infections), but to eradicate the Coronavirus. I thought this might not be possible, but after thinking it through, I wonder if there is actually a way to eradicate it. After all SARS-1 doesn’t exist anymore! Could we stop travel and shut down life (as we know it) until the new Coronavirus has been eradicated?

By the way, the absolutely outstanding work effort combined with HUGE personal sacrifices of our healthcare workers alone requires us to think further than just looking to “flatten the curve”. And their dedication and trojan effort to fight against this virus is part of the reason why I think a bit of a Lockdown is a small price to pay if we we can help them fight the infections and deaths.

Let’s do this together and stick to the rules as much as possible!


Before the end of this post, I need to appeal to everyone to support the efforts through Social Distancing, but at the same time, not to go crazy over it! It is relevant and it helps, but it can be overdone:

I have seen posts on Facebook where three guys performed some songs together and a range of people had nothing better to do than to complain “loudly” that the three don’t adhere to Social Distancing rules! These three guys live in the same apartment! Seeing three people closer than 2m together doesn’t mean that they are selfish a**holes.

And Leo Varadkar said in his announcement last night that it is allowed to go for
“brief individual physical exercise, within 2km of your own home, which may include children from your own household, AS LONG AS YOU ADHERE TO 2m PHYSICAL DISTANCING”.
This was written down on his manuscript and I really hope that it was an oversight that this is total nonsense: If you go for a walk ONLY with people from your own household, the 2m distancing does NOT make sense. How come nobody realised that?

 

 

Useless laws in Ireland? Why only here?

In some parts of Dublin, there is a problem with motorised youths on footpaths and in parks. They use quadbikes and small motorbikes (nicknamed “scramblers”) and in 2016 a total of 71 people got injured and in 2017, 62 people suffered injuries, Now I have to be honest and admit that I don’t really care about injuries to people that drive them. It is only injuries to people that are hit by them that count.

You would think that if an illegal vehicle is used (the quadbikes and motorbikes have no insurance and pay no tax), the gardai would make sure that the bikes will be impounded and the drivers will be charged and punished. You would think that! But that is not what is happening!

Instead it emerged this week that Gardai are told NOT to pursue quad bikes and it also emerged that Irish laws are not so clear on what a street is.

I can’t get my head around this: There are around 190 countries in this world and there are many countries (mainly in Europe) where the legal system is quite similar to the system in Ireland. If ANY one of these countries has effective laws and effective law enforcement in ANY area that Ireland can’t get under control, why do our lawmakers not just copy the laws that others have put in place?

We constantly hear of loop holes for drunken drivers. Now there is a problem with quadbikes and motorbikes and there are many other areas as well where the Irish laws are ineffective. Is it that our law makers are just not smart enough or why can’t they get it sorted?

Here is an example of a story that shows the ineffectiveness of laws and law enforcement.

 

Weather Shambles in Ireland!? Can we handle the weather?

Before I start into this article, let me state – for the avoidance of any doubt – that neither the Irish government nor Irish Water can be made responsible for the weather. Irish politicians would probably love to lay claim to organising the most suitable weather for their constituents and Irish Water is never at fault about anything at all anyway, but we will have to let them off the hook regarding their weather responsibility. :-)

The question that I came across during the week does, however, have something to do with Irish authorities and with their ability (or not!) to forward plan and to do what we need them to do when it comes to weather challenges.

Weather is an important topic in Ireland! We love to talk about it and even more to complain about it. We don’t really have any weather extremes, but you wouldn’t know that if you listen to weather news or read just a normal newspaper.

Oddly, though, we seriously struggle as soon as something out of the ordinary (i.e. 13 degrees and scattered showers) happens. If we have 2 cm of snow, the country comes to a stand still. Traffic collapses, schools close and the country stops operating. On the other end: Give us around 20 degrees for a few weeks with no significant rain fall and we are (nearly) running out of drinking water.

Is this normal? Well, there are countries in Europe that regularly have significant snow fall and just keep going. And there are other countries where they know they will have hardly any drop of rain from Spring until end of Autumn and still, people will water their lawn and drinking water is plentifully available.

We claim that we are not used to it and therefore we struggle dealing with it. Hmmmm, Middle Europe (around Germany) had temperatures of above 35 degrees for well over a week and they are also not used to it, but life continues. Water is still there despite very little rain this year. Mallorca, Fuerteventura and the south of Spain (just to mention a few popular places) have no rain at all in the summer, but there doesn’t seem to be a hosepipe ban. And if we look at the other end of the year: Snow is never guaranteed in parts of Middle Europe. But if there is snow, then they deal with it and continue!

When will we start to prepare for increasing temperatures, lack of rain and occasional snow? The holes in the water pipes need to be plugged asap, we need more deep wells to get better water than surface water and we need to think about water desalination.

But what about winter time? We now do have salt and we have snow ploughs and still there is panic and mayhem. Do we need new rules? Make Winter tyres compulsory? Make it compulsory that house owners clean the footpath?

What do you think would fix the problems in summer and in winter?

National Broadband Plan: The wheels are falling off…and so they should!

A few years ago, the Irish Government decided that every single house in Ireland should get a minimum of 30 Mbit/s of broadband connection. It is a totally crazy idea (and I will explain why) and it didn’t go too smooth yet with delay after delay. A shortlist of companies that wanted to submit a bid to deliver that National Broadband Plan (NBP) was created already in 2016, but not too much happened. This year now the tender document was meant to be issued so that the shortlisted companies can prepare their proposals.

Two companies (Imagine and Gigabit Ethernet) didn’t make it on the shortlist and from three shortlisted companies (Eir, Enet and Siro), Siro (an ESB and Vodafone cooperation) already last year pulled out, which only left Eir and Enet on the list. This week Eir also declared that they are not interested any further and that just leaves Enet. A tender process still has to happen, but with just one bidder, it is virtually certain that Enet will win (as long as they fulfill all criteria). And it also means that Enet will be able to charge nearly whatever they want and the government will have to pay it. But that means YOU and I are paying it!

So that NBP process is already broken and can’t be fixed anymore. Abandoning the whole plan and starting from fresh should be the ONLY option!

How did it come to that mess?

It all started with the nonsensical promise of 30 Mbit/s to every house in Dublin. That is a stupid promise for soooo many reasons. Firstly, it assumes that the broadband service is NEEDED for something. Decades earlier a Universal Service Obligation (USO) forced Telecom Eireann (now Eir) to provide a landline to every house in the country no matter what the cost would be. At the time Telecom Eireann was owned by the government and a landline was seen as a requirement for people who lived in the middle of nowhere to stay in touch and to be able to notify emergency services if something happened. The price was high! Tax payers paid thousands to reach remote houses and it was never the house owner that had to pay, but he/she paid the same as someone in the City Centre where phone lines would be just a few metres away.

The successor to landline services are now broadband services and people living in the middle of nowhere therefore expect that they should now get broadband services for NO extra price. But imagine this scenario: You decide (free choice!) to live in the remotest place in Co. Kerry and you came up with the genius idea that setting up a haulage/transport company for customers on the East Coast of Ireland is the perfect business for you. The streets are not great where you live, but because you decided that trucks need to get to you FAST, you now demand from the government that they will build a motorway to your company. Imagine! Everybody would say you are crazy to expect that and that you chose the wrong place for your company. No taxpayer would agree to pay for essentially a private motor way to you.

If it is a ridiculous idea to build a HUGE road to the remotest place, why is it not a ridiculous idea to build broadband services to the remotest places? Sure if people want to pay the full price for it, they can have it. But to expect that all the other taxpayers will pay for their choice to live far away from infrastructure doesn’t seem to make sense. Right?

Now, we are not unreasonable people, so let’s give them SOME Internet connection. They should also be allowed to order their goods from Amazon of Bookdepository if they want, sending and receiving e-mails is also ok and checking the news on a website is perfectly fine too. But uploading or downloading huge files or Netflix streaming is really not a basic requirement to live!

It could be a requirement for a company, though. but that brings me back to the motorway example: If you need extraordinary infrastructure you either need to pay for it in full or need to go where the infrastructure can be provided in an economically feasible way.

Because you are MUCH nicer and more caring than I am, you probably are now wondering how many houses and businesses we are talking about. I am glad you asked! It is around 900,000 (!) connections that were originally in that National Broadband Plan. That’s a lot of subsidised connections!!

But then something important happened: When all these delays happened, the mobile phone companies, Imagine and Eir grabbed the opportunity and as fast as lightning (they are usually MUCH slower) they built infrastructure to the easy reachable customers. So now more than 300,000 easy reachable customers are already with services and with the low hanging fruit gone, the remaining 500k-600k connections are the ones that nobody really wants because you can’t build a business on that basis.

And suddenly Eir’s withdrawal from the shortlist makes sooo much sense. They don’t want the scraps, the left-overs, the bottom of the barrel. In addition Eir knows, that if Enet wins the contract, Enet will HAVE to use Eir infrastructure to reach these 500,000, so Eir wins ANYWAY. Smart, right!?

So why does the government not stop that silly National Broadband Plan? Because the 500k connections could be around 1mio voters! In addition they seem to think that Ireland depends on the small businesses in the middle of nowhere to remain competitive in the European/international market.

And what would make sense? It would be necessary to draw lines! That means that not EVERYONE will get broadband, but if you live to far away from a city or at least town, then you are on your own! Then the promised/guaranteed bandwidth should be reduced to what is needed, not what would be nice to have. (Nobody NEEDS 30 Mbit/s!) And finally, the National Broadband Plan should be re-started because one really important way to reach any remote locations is via mobile phone data services, so mobile phone service providers HAVE to get involved and the government has to entice them enough to get involved.

80st Birthday!! Ignore it or celebrate it?

Imagine your granddad or grandma had their 80st Birthday today! What would you do? Would you ignore it or celebrate? Would you at least ring them? Buy them (or make them) a cake? Or get a Birthday Card for them?

Interestingly, this week as Ireland’s 80st birthday and it was duly IGNORED! :-O That’s odd isn’t it? Maybe we will have to wait another 20 years until it is worth celebrating? Or maybe what happened 80 years ago wasn’t …..hmmmm…. “juicy” enough to talk about it today?

On 29 December 1937, the Irish Free State became “Ireland” or “Eire” and the Irish constitution from 1922 was replaced by a brand new constitution. There was a referendum about that new constitution on 01 July 1937 and after a majority voted in favour of it, the new constitution came into effect on 29 December.

This means that formally, the Ireland we live in today was born on 29 December 1937 and consequently celebrates its 80st birthday this year. But who is celebrating?

If you want to find out what celebrations there are, you ring some family members, right? Well, I did that! On 29 December, I rang Dail Eireann, but they seemingly weren’t even aware of the birthday and the PR person had left already and won’t be back until next year. Then I rang the Fianna Fail Headquarter and they are all on holidays until 02 January. Then I tried to reach Fine Gael and they are also on holidays until 03 January. I also couldn’t find a newspaper that wrote about this birthday. :-O

So, I guess grandma/grandpa is just unlucky to have a birthday at the wrong time of the year!?

Or could this birthday “ignorance” have something to do with the fact that the current government is from Fine Gael and Fine Gael was the party that campaigned for a NO at the 1937 referendum? They were totally opposed to the new constitution, which was promoted by Fianna Fail??

Let’s ignore any possible reasons and wish: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Ireland! ;-)

 
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