- 20 Mar 20
While there is very little in the way of good news in Ireland right now, elsewhere glimmers of hope have been appearing that we can beat Covid-19 – and that it might just be sooner rather than later.
On the surface, yesterday was not a good day for Ireland in the fight against the coronavirus, Covid-19. 119 new cases were reported, bringing the total number here to 557. That was a steeper rise than the Department of Health had anticipated.
The Chief Medial Officer Tony Holohan also reported that the third Covid-19 death had taken place in the Republic. For the first time, no underlying cause had been reported to the Department. That news struck an ominous note, at the end of a day on which good news was hard to come by.
North of the border, meanwhile, the first death was recorded. The total number of cases there is 77. But the likelihood is that a more intensive testing programme would have uncovered a far higher number by now – probably comparable on a per capita basis to the rest of the island. How quickly that accelerated testing is likely to be put in place remains to be seen.
STAY AT HOME
Outside these borders, there was further devastating news from Italy, whence the vast majority of European infections have sprung. There, 41,035 cases have been reported, with an alarming 3,405 deaths – astonishingly, that's now a higher number than in China, where the first outbreak of Covid-19 was reported at the tail end of 2019.
There has also been a stark increase in fatalities in Spain, with an additional 235 deaths being reported yesterday, bringing the total to over 1,000 lives lost to date. Over a third of the cases of coronavirus in Spain are in the capital, Madrid, making it one of the worst-hit areas in the world.
The international picture is a rapidly-changing one. In England, there has been a sharp surge in the number of cases reported in the West Midlands, with 28 deaths so far in the area. In the country as a whole, the numbers are rising rapidly too.
There is a different issue in the United States, which is way behind Europe in terms of testing. President Donald Trump may be flailing around looking for anyone to blame other than himself, but individual States are not waiting to see where he leads. The Governor of California has ordered all citizens to stay at home, in an attempt to combat Covid-19 in the State that has the highest population in the U.S. The warning issued there is that as many as 25.5 million people – almost 60% of the population – might contract the virus. Whatever about Trump and his administration, some people in the U.S. are taking the virus very seriously indeed.
The news however is not all bad.
Yesterday, for the second day running, China reported no new community-based cases. In all, 39 new cases were diagnosed, but they were all characterised as imported. These figures suggest that it is possible to turn back the Covid-19 tide, with the application of stringent measures. The question remains as to the long-term impact that similar measures would have on life in Europe. But that the illness can be contained is, at least, mildly encouraging.
In an Irish context, there was some small comfort too to be taken from the comments made by the Director of National Virus Reference Laboratory, Dr Cillian De Gascun. He made the point that we had yet to see the benefits of the much more intensive measures taken recently in relation to social distancing in Ireland. The hope is that these will deliver the desired results in terms of flattening the curve of confirmed Covid-19 cases here, thus enabling the health services and the hospitals to deal effectively with the ongoing need for testing and treatment.
Meanwhile, there were suggestions of possible light at the end of the tunnel, in the search for a cure. According to reliable media reports, medical authorities in China have stated that the drug Favipiravir, used in Japan to treat certain strains of influenza, has been effective in treating coronavirus patients. Clinical trials were carried out on 340 patients in Wuhan – the original epicentre of the outbreak – and Shenzhen.
According to the Chinese public broadcaster NHK, patients treated with the drug tested negative an average of four days from the start of treatment, compared with 11 days for those who were not treated with the drug. There were also benefits where the condition of the lungs of those who had been infected was concerned, with a 50% increase in the rate of lung repair among those treated with the drug.
While effective in mild cases, this good news is qualified by the fact that the drug seems to be far less effective in treating more severe cases. Favipiravir was used by the Japanese government to treat emergency cases of Ebola in 2016.
These may seem like mere straws in the wind, but there are other reasons to feel less frightened.
Harvard Health Publishing – the media and publishing division of the Harvard Medical School of Harvard University – has published an article which opens with the news that current estimates are that 99% of people with the virus that causes Covid-19 will recover.
That, of course, means that 1% will die, which is ten times higher than the figure for seasonal flu. But it is not by any means as apocalyptic an outcome as the current headlines might seem to predict. It does not get away from the fact that people will die. That loved ones will be lost. And that tragedy will be a part of the experience of many Irish people over the coming weeks.
But here in Hot Press, we are keeping on keeping on with vitality and hopefully courage. With us (and in the case of The Lockdown Sessions, with the support of Grace O'Malley Irish Whiskey), the community of Irish musicians has been rallying brilliantly to find ways of sharing their wonderful work – and the deeply-felt emotions that go with it – to the world.
People are in shock right now. Understandably so. The impact of the virus strikes at the very foundations of life as we know it. In particular, it prevents us individually and collectively from doing naturally the things that we badly want to do, in a situation like this more than ever: coming together physically, shaking hands, holding one another, hugging, kissing, and showing our love and affection for the people we know and value enormously.
But if we hold in our hearts the strong sense that, at a deeper level, we really are in this together, and that we will work as a community and as a country to come out the other side in the very best shape possible – that we will fight back effectively, with dignity and courage – then there truly is hope.
There is the prospect of returning, if not to what we previously thought of as normal, then to the things that most bring us joy.
– The Hot Press Editorial Team