- 02 Oct 20
With the imposition of the lockdown in Dublin, the likelihood of widespread closures and insolvencies has been hugely increased. The problem is that it is getting harder by the week to believe that we are in control, or know where this is all heading…
Here we go again. Dress it up any way you want, what was announced by the Government in recent weeks is a Dublin-sized lockdown. And with it come four horsemen: confusion, dissent, rage and despair.
Yes, everybody wants to avoid a healthcare apocalypse. Infections are rising again and the panic has returned. The accepted line is that our hospitals won’t be able to cope with a runaway pandemic so we have to clamp down. But not everyone is on the same page, especially when it comes to society and the economy. Meanwhile, Brexit is coming down the track. Things don’t look good at all.
Whole sectors are going to the wall. We are facing the death of our hospitality industry. The notion that the new lockdown only affects Dublin is risible. Dubliners made up a huge proportion of those staycationing in Ireland. Make no mistake: penning then into the city is a dagger to the heart of tourism throughout Ireland.
But it isn’t just hotels, holiday homes, restaurants and weddings that are at immediate risk. There will be enormous and potentially catastrophic consequential effects on thousands of small and medium enterprises. These are the backbone of so much employment in Ireland. It is a doomsday scenario.
The wipe-out of the performing arts in music and theatre may well be final. This will hit performers, techies and promoters alike. The younger, less well-established artists won’t have the hospitality industry to fall back on either for jobs that might keep them going. Anyone with a mortgage is likely to be crushed. There is something monstrously unjust and wrong about it.
Is there an alternative? It if were easy to answer that question, we would.
MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS
At a deeper level, one senses a corrosive suspicion that whole sectors of society and the economy are being sacrificed to keep schools full and ICUs empty.
There is also a growing unease at the massive encroachment onto our civil liberties, prompted by health experts who are not answerable in any meaningful way. Okay, they mean well and nobody really believes they’re actually trying to create a police state, but that’s the outcome. Blinded by their own heroic light, they’re filleting our legal system and generating, however unwittingly, what is a draconian regime.
Maybe it’s a function of panic and frustration. But stifling dissent and generating fear, shaming and surveillance is the stuff of authoritarianism.
The need to reassert democratic and political oversight is recognised in the Government’s new Covid-19 oversight group. But, as they say, a camel is a horse designed by a committee and we’re being sold a hotchpotch.
Take, for example, the injunction that indoor dining in pubs and restaurants in Dublin should cease. While schools remain open? But no clusters have been found in restaurants! Nobody can explain what bizarre metric is being used here. Because it makes no objective sense.
The health experts are morbidly fearful that the health system will be overwhelmed by the second wave so, they say, immediate action is necessary. But the health sector was already overwhelmed before the pandemic! And it’s overwhelmed by the seasonal flu every winter! Hospitals can’t cope with what might transpire? Why not? Because of the chronic mismanagement of health in Ireland over generations.
So, we’re going to save lives threatened by Covid-19 by shutting up shop for an indeterminate period? Let us translate: even though a huge percentage of new cases are from private homes, the plan is to strangle society and the economy, and especially the hospitality sector, to shelter the health system from the Covid-19 storm and reduce deaths from that particular headline illness.
Meanwhile, others will die from other infections, postponed tests, scans and surgeries!
Is it any wonder that we face a tsunami of mental health problems? And that begs a question: in protecting the Intensive Care Units from being overwhelmed, are we creating an equally troubling, but vastly longer-term problem in mental health?
Look at the facts. Jobs are disappearing. Whole parts of our economy are being wiped. Society is reduced to grunted greetings. Families with school-going children tread a terrifying daily merry-go-round – one sneeze and the child is sent for testing.
If we had a universal mental health system it would already be teetering. But, while we have some very good services and supports, you could never honestly call it a system, because that word means there’s something coherent, consistent, universal and available – and, other than GPs and benzos, what we have is most charitably described as a threadbare patchwork.
And in the Covid-19 crisis, as ever, mental health isn’t a priority. Why? Is it because people aren’t dying in droves? Or is it because you don’t need PPE and scrubs and ventilators and all the terrifying pomp and circumstance attaching to viral contagion?
It is undeniable, however, that the pandemic has driven a major increase in mental health problems. Their impact has yet to manifest but the hour is at hand.
There is some good news. Income supports and working from home have given a modest cushion for some. And you can never underestimate individual and family resilience.
People have developed coping mechanisms: for some it’s been exercise, music, cooking, crafts, trying to calm the waters, finding some peace and creating stability even in the midst of mayhem. We’ve been learning to breathe properly, exercising, reverting to routines, drinking good coffee, eating and drinking as well as possible, savouring the pleasures of the flesh, sleeping.
But some of us are crumpling under huge burdens. So, in the absence of coherent mental health supports what can we do?
The immediate challenge is how to respond to personal crises. That may involve GPs and benzos and, if you’re lucky enough to be close to a good local service, a Zoom consultation. But then there’s the long haul, providing for those who have coped, however tenuously, but at a cost they’ll bear for a very long time. Indeed, children, resilient as they generally are, may well carry a lifelong scar from the Project Fear waged by the authorities in their – understandable – efforts to raise public awareness.
Fortune, as ever, sadly favours those with resources: money, knowledge, education, youth. Everyone else needs a coherent and consistent service. Starting now…