As the story of Covid-19 progresses, we see how governments react in their different ways. The United States are led by an imbecilic narcissist who elevates his own knowledge, or ‘hunches’, or ‘feelings’ above the advice given by senior scientists and health officials. The number of fatalities is rising fast. Conditions in one New York hospital were described as apocalyptic. The President has promised to re-open the American economy in two weeks, taking advice on the health of his nation from unqualified and discredited sources.
In Ireland, the recent election was dominated by two main issues, health and housing. The health system is a two-tiered system, public and private. Our hospitals have a huge shortage of beds, nurses, consultants, etc. There are not enough GP’s; the number of ICU beds is half the European average. Waiting times for procedures can be long. This writer waited four and a half years for a minor procedure after being referred by my GP.
The response to Covid-19 in Ireland has been in stark contrast to that in the US. It has seemingly been well coordinated and has taken its leads from the scientists and public health officials in Europe and the WHO. One of the first steps taken was to nationalize the private hospitals. This has been done due to the current emergency, and who knows how things will continue once this particular crisis is over. But if this is the best system for managing a global pandemic, at what point could you imagine reverting to the old troubled and broken two-tiered system?
Covid-19 is teaching us some very important lessons. Primary among these is that the collective will always outdo the individual. Another is that our health is more important to us than our economy. While one Texan politician claims old people would be happy to sacrifice their lives so their children and grandchildren can continue to thrive economically, you would be hard pushed to find people in Spain or Italy or New York to agree with him.
We can see the best and worst of government in these times. And no doubt, when there is a respite from this pandemic, there will be many horror stories emerging from the rubble. But what we can see now are extraordinary efforts being made by communities all over the world to alleviate the suffering of their relatives, friends and neighbours, and to support the front-line workers who bear the brunt of the work and the risks associated with this virus. Rather than the zombie apocalypse, we are seeing true community action. We use many words wrongly in our normal discourse. ‘Community’ is one of them. Rather than denoting an identity, it takes its proper meaning as that of togetherness, and commonality.
It will be a long time before we can truly measure who performed well during this pandemic, and who performed badly. But we do know already that governments are capable of enacting extraordinary measures on the advice of scientists and relevant experts. So now we must push for this same collective will to be aimed at the biggest crisis of all. We have to aim for the complete eradication of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases from the planet. We should be aiming for this to be achieved in a ten-year period. This should be seen as a public health issue that is every bit as big and dangerous as Covid-19. The WHO has published figures showing that deaths from pollution are running at about seven million a year. When we add the destruction of habitats from cyclones such as Idai, which hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Malawi last year, the fires that have raged all over the world, the creeping rise of sea levels and on and on and on, we should be seeing this as the greatest health pandemic of them all, and acting accordingly.