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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?

 

 

Less obesity but lots more strokes and dementia!? Thanks, Leo!

So, our wonderful politicians, led by former doctor and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar decided that they have to protect us from ourselves and force us to be healthier by introducing the Sugar Tax (correctly: Sugar Sweetened Drinks Tax). The Irish Heart Foundation and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland also supported the tax and claimed it will be a significant step in the fight against obesity.

The goal is to move people away from drinks that contain sugar and while there is the alternative of just drinking water, the probability is HUGE that people will move to diet drinks if they want to avoid paying the significant surcharge on drinks that contain sugar. Drinks containing between five and eight grams of sugar have experienced a price increase of 20 cent per litre and drinks with more than eight grams of sugar per 100 ml cost now even 30 cent more per litre.

All this to FORCE us to be healthier!

But did Leo Varadkar, the Irish Heart Foundation and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland really do their homework? Does avoiding sugar definitely make us healthier?

Interestingly there is a study that was published by the American Heart Foundation in April 2017, that indicates that our politicians and the two health-sector organisations mentioned above, probably did something really really bad to the people in Ireland!

The study looked at 2888 people for stroke and 1484 people for dementia and checked if sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened drink consumption had any impact on the risk of suffering a stroke or getting dementia.

And they found that artificially sweetened soft drink consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke and dementia, while sugar-sweetened beverages were not associated with stroke or dementia!! :-O

So if thanks to Leo and his boys you moved from sugar sweetened drinks to artificially sweetened drinks to save some money, you might not die of obesity, but you are much more likely to die of or at least suffer of a stroke OR lose your mind!

In other words: Adults who had one or more diet drinks a day were 2.9 times more likely to develop dementia and 3 times more at risk of suffering a stroke compared to people who didn’t drink diet drinks. And drinking diet drinks is far worse than drinking drinks sweetened with sugar.

Great job, Leo!! Thanks! :-(

LGBT groups at New York Parade? – No, Leo Varadkar, you got that wrong!

Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was in the USA for the Taoiseach’s yearly St. Patrick’s Day visit and he was invited to take part in the St, Patrick’s Day Parade with his partner. Since a few years ago Varadkar had declared that he is gay (it seems that his partner lives in the USA), it was not surprising that he mentioned in an interview the fact that he was marching in the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade with his partner was a sign of change and great diversity.

RTE News wrote about it here.

But he got that completely wrong! The parade organisers banned LGBT groups in the past, but since Varadkar was not walking in the parade as a representative of any LGBT group or under an LGBT banner, his walking in the parade can NOT be interpreted as a “sign of change” at all.

We can clearly see in this picture from the above RTE News article, that he was not part of ANY LGBT group in the parade:

Without a doubt he is not the first gay person who is walking in the parade! And his private preferences were not the reason for his presence in the parade. Consequently, however, his admission to the parade also doesn’t indicate that the organisers have changed their opinion about LGBT groups.

Odd how in his opinion 2 plus 2 results in 6.

 

The Tide has turned: Eighth Amendment!

The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution from 1983 puts the right to life of the unborn on an equal standing with the mother’s right to life and is a hard fought over legal clause. The opponents are mainly the “Pro Choice” campaigners and the group that fights for the keeping of this clause are on the Anti-Abortion side. Interestingly though, that clause doesn’t mention abortion at all and its removal would not automatically mean that abortion is legalised, but as long as it is in the constitution it indirectly makes abortion illegal.

For that reason – and this is the only point the two groups agree on – the Anti-Abortion campaigners are convinced that a change of the Eighth Amendment will open the doors for abortion, something they are determined to fight as hard as possible. The Pro-Choice side also is of the opinion that the change (or removal) of the Eighth Amendment will legalise abortion.

In April 2017, the Citizen Assembly, a group of 99 Irish citizens who had the job to decide about what to do with this clause in the constitution because the political parties were too cowardly to make a decision, voted that the clause should be replaced or amended, but not removed. They further decided that abortion should be regulated in the normal body of law and NOT in the constitution. This was a very sensible approach many think. It is not at all an automatic legalisation of abortion, but removes a clause from the constitution that shouldn’t have never been put in there, because constitutions should be a lot more on a foundation level and not get into details.

The public opinion is very much divided about abortion in general and the two sides are so deeply opposed that no compromise will ever be possible.

A referendum will have to decide what happens with the Eighth Amendment and that referendum will happen in the summer as it seems. Most importantly it will NOT be a referendum about abortion, but only about the future of that clause in the constitution.

Until now it was very unclear what the outcome of the referendum might be. Opinion polls seem to indicate a majority for a form of repeal of the clause, but opinion polls can be very unreliable and since the main politicians hadn’t declared their opinion about it, there were still a LOT of question marks over the decision of their party followers.

It seems however that the tide has turned now! Michael Martin, the leader of Fianna Fail, has changed his opinion and is now in favour of removing the clause and Leo Varadkar, the leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach, has indicated that he also supports the removal of the clause. The opinion of the two party leaders doesn’t mean that the referendum is now more or less decided. The opinions in the public don’t usually swing with the political leaders and they both have made clear that they will not tell their parliamentarians how to decide, but will allow a free vote. On the other hand, though, the clear declaration by both in favour of removing the clause from the constitution is a significant event in the process.

It should be noted for people that are not fully aware of the “Irish solution” to the abortion problem, that the clause never stopped abortion! Instead, women who felt that an an abortion was their only option, travelled to the UK for it. So it was a totally ineffective clause in the constitution!

Please note that the above description focuses on the Eighth Amendment and does NOT discuss the pros and cons of abortion AT ALL, I am also intentionally not taking any sides on abortion it is a MUCH to complex issue for this publication and this section. But I realised in the last six months through questions that people who only came to Ireland in recent years asked me, that the confusion about the Eighth Referendum is HUGE and since it has always been an oddity to me that the constitution covers this one singled out topic while while other very relevant aspect are not considered there, I decided to write about it.

If you asked me, I would be happy to state that it is my opinion that the Eighth Amendment should be removed because I think the laws of a country should deal with all legal issues and abortion belongs in this category.

You disagree? I 100% respect your opinion and I hope you respect mine. The good news for you – if you disagree – is, that I won’t be allowed to vote in the referendum. So don’t worry about me or my opinion. :-)

You can send me your opinion if you feel like it, but don’t expect an answer from me. I am not interested in discussing the pros or cons of abortion!

Brexit: No hard border to Northern Ireland – Is that really possible?

For weeks this issue is in the media and it is/has been a big hurdle for the Brexit negotiations. No matter what some might WANT, Northern Ireland is part of the UK and the fact that it once was part of Ireland or the fact that it is located on the island of Ireland does not change that. Valid treaties are in place and unless they change Northern Ireland will remain to be a part of the UK. And if the whole UK leaves the EU, then this will also mean that Northern Ireland will leave the UK.

I am well aware that the population of Northern Ireland is divided on their allegiances and many would prefer a closer relationship or even a “re-unification” with Ireland, I am also aware that nobody would want to get back to the situation before the “Good Friday Agreement” from 1998, when terrorist organisations on both sides and highly questionable official forces made life hell for everybody.
But being from a border area elsewhere, I also am well aware that a border or even border controls is not the biggest problem in the world. Sure, we would all prefer a borderless world, but we have on one hand no problem causing a huge amount of in-humane problems to non-EU citizens who want to visit us in the EU, but on the other hand, many think that a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would be the worst possible scenario.

I don’t agree that borders are a problem. When I grew up we regularly went to France, which was only 20 minutes away and it was never a big problem. Two countries, two set of laws and rules and a border made some sense. The EU states worked hard to break down the borders, but if one state decides to leave, I can’t see how it will work not to have borders again.

Nevertheless, it was announced on Friday that after long negotiations it was agreed that there will be NO hard borders between Northern Ireland and Ireland. So no border controls! But nobody seems to know yet how that will work in reality.

UK government said that they will ensure that there are no barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. So, there won’t be a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and there won’t be a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. BUT there might be completely different tax rules. Do you see the problem?

Have a look at the agreed document here. It says nothing and leaves a lot to Phase 2 negotiations and at the same time the agreement says a lot. Clause 49, for example, more or less implies that Northern Ireland might stay in the EU Customs Union and in the Single Market. And Clause 50 promises that there won’t be any barriers between Northern Ireland and the UK, but this is then probably only possible if the UK also stays in the EU Customs Union and the Single Market. :-O

Either that agreement is not worth the paper it is printed on OR the UK just has abandoned Brexit in large parts. Odd!!

 
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