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Ireland

Social distancing in Blarney

Everything is local, but everything is also global now. The world feels a lot smaller.

There’s one topic of conversation everywhere now and that’s the coronavirus (WB), SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) which causes the COVID-19 disease. It feels like Europe and North America sleep walked into this, ignoring what was happening in China until it was too late.

This is the first in a maybe series of blog posts that I want to publish for the me in ten years time. For the time when this is all over and some sense of normality has resumed.

Throughout the first week of March companies started telling their employees to work from home. March 2nd, Google told staff in Dublin to do so.

The first meme I saw about the virus

The first reported case (and 7th in the country) of COVID-19 in Cork was in the CUH on Thursday 5th of March. Many felt the Irish Government were slow to react to the crisis.

However last Thursday afternoon, an Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced (WB) that schools and other public buildings would be closing at 6pm that day until March 29th. The St. Patrick’s Day Festival would be cancelled. He requested that people practise social distancing, keeping at least 1 meter away from other people. People should stay in their homes. Kids should not mix with the kids in other families. Don’t go visiting grand parents.

Homework was assigned for the 2 weeks, I’m sure much to the dismay of all the kids in my son’s class.

Matt published his great post on distributed work and began it by saying,

This is not how I envisioned the distributed work revolution taking hold.

Matt Mullenweg, Coronavirus and the Remote Work Experiment No One Asked For

Beau followed a few days later with a comprehensive blog post about the tools that Automattic uses. I don’t think he missed anything. If you’re interested in distributed work you’ll love this post.

Gavin Sheridan made his COVID19 Twitter list public on March 6th.

Shoppers went mad buying toilet rolls and pasta. Lines for the cash registers over the weekend snaked all around stores. We were told that shops would maintain their supply lines and remain open but in other countries shops are now closed so people are worried.

A consultant respiratory paediatrician, Dr Muireann Ní Chroínín CUH had this to say on March 13th:

“I hope you all stay safe during this difficult time . The children will get through this no problem . Paediatric hospitals are empty in Italy at present after 3 weeks of school closure as the usual viruses stopped circulating . Remember with corona children are vectors not victims . In most epidemics young children are the transmitters . Therefore for school closure to be effective it’s really important that the kids aren’t mixing with other kids while out of school . They will give it to each other silently pass it on to our loved ones. What we do now will contribute to how this develops in cork . Avoid situations that the children will interact . If the community respond to this it will shut it down more than anything we do in hospital . From my experiences in the hospital this last week I would say that corona virus is closer to all of us than we realise and the degrees of separation for all of us is getting narrower . I’m not that good at social media but if this could be shared as widely as possible with parents in cork it will help. This messsage needs to go viral to stop the virus .”

Dr Muireann Ní Chroínín, consultant respiratory paediatrician CUH.

The “wash your hands” mantra was and is still being repeated. There are two numbers to care about. The reported numbers of infections, and the real number. It’s impossible to know the real number. Many with minor symptoms won’t contact their doctor, or maybe even know they have the virus but they’ll still be infectious. There might be 10 times or 100 times the number of infected people in your area. Most countries are trying to slow the spread of the virus by flattening the curve as described here (WB).

The famous Cheltenham races still went ahead in the UK on March 10th. Thousands of Irish people travelled over there, rubbing shoulders and exchanging coughs and sneezes in the enclosed space there. They arrived back to demands they isolate themselves for fear of infecting their families but the Government said no need if they don’t have symptoms perhaps forgetting that people are contagious before they have symptoms ..

Despite the partial lockdown of the country, pubs and restaurants remained open. Over the weekend pubs did a roaring trade prompting the Government to call for their closure from last night. Bars were still open until midnight.

We walked around Blarney on Saturday evening. Pubs and restaurants were open but they didn’t look too busy. People were eating at tables but were well spaced. Christy’s Bar was quiet with people sitting in small groups apart from each other.

Centra in Blarney has a spray and paper to decontaminate trolleys and baskets.

On Sunday morning the Feed The Heroes (WB) fundraiser was started to send food to hospital staff around the country. By that evening they had raised more than €24,000 and right now the gofundme (WB) stands at €73,916!

Most countries are putting some sort of lockdown in place. The UK appears to be doing the opposite, allowing the virus to spread through the population to build herd immunity. Days later they urged older people to isolate themselves for up to 4 months, but life seemed to go on as normal over there. Irish people were perplexed at our neighbour’s (in)actions. However, I’ve just read that Boris Johnson wants British people to avoid social contact and work from home so hopefully sense will prevail.

Unfortunately there are still horrible people about. A doctor finishing their 14th day working in a Cork hospital came out to find his bike stolen. Luckily he was inundated with offers (screenshot) to replace the bike and it ends well.

A Tweet on Saturday from Italy showed the difference a few weeks can make. The local paper had one and a half pages of obituaries. Friday’s paper had ten pages dedicated to them. That’s what we all fear could be in store for us.

On Sunday my wife and I needed to get out for a walk. Social distancing doesn’t mean you have to stay inside! Down by the River Martin we went and I have never seen so many families and small groups of people. Everyone was in good form but we all kept our distance and it was great to bump into friends down there, even if we did converse at a distance.

It’s surreal being outside. Whatever the number of reported COVID-19 cases there must be an order of magnitude more cases. Advice has been that it is already all around you in the community and you should act like you already have it but don’t want to give it to someone else. That attitude tends to colour your vision of even a solitary figure walking down an empty street.

Tonight the pubs are closed in Blarney. I think the only restaurant open is the Lantern House, maybe for take away food?

The latest news I’ve seen is that an Irish developed kit might be available in a week that can confirm infection in 15 minutes. Of course someone was bound to perpetuate the stereotype of the drunken Irishman with this comment

I think it’s hilarious that I can only remember seeing Ireland in the news twice in my recent memory.

3/15/2020 – Pubs in Ireland asked to close due to Coronavirus.

3/16/2020 – Irish developed testing kit to confirm Coronavirus in 15 minutes.

I was feeling optimistic about a vaccine after reading this post, and the news about the kit above is great to help fight it but this video where Joe Rogan interviews Michael Osterholm, an expert in infectious disease epidemiology about the virus has got me down again. Even washing hands may do little to stop you getting the virus, but it’s still very important to do just that.

The economic cost of the virus is biting. It’s estimated that 140,000 may have lost their jobs in less than a week.

Just as I hit Publish I saw that XKCD posted a new comic and it resonates with me. My poor mind.

I really shouldn’t hit Publish so quickly should I? A Buzzfeed article says the UK Government is reversing their earlier strategy!

In this scenario, the Imperial College team predicted as many as 250,000 deaths in Britain.

“In the UK, this conclusion has only been reached in the last few days,” the report explained, due to new data on likely intensive care unit demand based on the experience of Italy and Britain so far.

“We were expecting herd immunity to build. We now realise it’s not possible to cope with that,” professor Azra Ghani, chair of infectious diseases epidemiology at Imperial, told journalists at a briefing on Monday night.

A suppression strategy, along the lines of the approach adopted by the Chinese authorities, “aims to reverse epidemic growth, reducing case numbers to low levels and maintaining that situation indefinitely”.

It requires “a combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members”, and “may need to be supplemented by school and university closures”.

An “intensive intervention package” will have to be “maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more)”, the report said, painting an extraordinary picture of what life could be like in the UK for the next year and a half.

You may have noticed that I didn’t embed tweets or the Youtube video above. I also employed the Wayback Machine for as many links as I could. I didn’t embed because doing so exposes you, dear visitor, to cookie tracking by those companies, and the Wayback Machine ensures that I’ll have a snapshot of what we’re seeing online right now, even in the far distant future!

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By Donncha

Donncha Ó Caoimh is a software developer at Automattic and WordPress plugin developer. He posts photos at In Photos and can also be found on Google+ and Twitter.

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