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Coronavirus Crisis: News from Ireland

By John Molyneux

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus crisis found Ireland completely unprepared. In the South the health service, due to repeated cuts, recruitment embargos and gross mismanagement was already in utter disarray and near breaking point before the crisis struck. This was a major factor in the big leftward anti-government swing in the recent general election. The government is deeply neo-liberal which is terrible point to start from in this situation since what is urgently required are state-led social, in a sense socialis,t measures on. a huge scale in order to save lives.

Now we are approaching a crisis point. Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar admitted on Monday that confirmed cases of Covid-19 are expected to increase by 30% every day over the next two weeks and that we may reach up to 15,000 cases by the end of the month. Between 5-10% of these cases could need intensive care.This could mean that roughly between 750 and 1,500 people could require intensive care over the next two weeks.

But there are currently only 249 Intensive Care Units (ICUs) in the public system. There are an

additional 90 ICU and high dependency units in the private sector. This means that even if all private ICUs are requisitioned, we will still be totally overwhelmed by the number of patients.

Varadkar has admitted himself that, "We can't say at this stage whether the number of people who need to be ventilated will exceed the numbers of ventilators we have." This means that swift and urgent action must be taken immediately to requisition private hospitals in order to combat Covid-19, as was done in Spain.

But this is not enough. The government must instruct all medical technology companies that have the capacity to do so to retool themselves and to construct new ventilators and other equipment that will help health workers to deal with this crisis.

So far, Varadkar and Co have been "in talks" with various private enterprises over how they may help to ease the crisis.We do not have time for this. Private hospitals and medical companies must be requisitioned immediately and set to work on this.

The government has made some significant moves but only under pressure and too slowly. St.Patrick’s Day celebrations were cancelled last week (no choice there) and schools, colleges etc are closed. The pubs have also been closed but only after huge crowds thronged Temple Bar (the tourist drinking area) on Saturday night.

Socialists and especially People Before Profit have been and will be in the forefront of demanding the emergency measures vital to protect public health.

One good thing is that local communities are starting to form mutual aid groups to support the vulnerable and people in self –isolation. If this works they will spread.

The ONLY standard by which the response of the Irish Government is not grossly wanting is the appalling response of Boris Johnson in Britain with his refusal to close schools and his strategy of ‘culling’ the vulnerable to reach ‘herd immunity’. But in Ireland this is not just a question of having a bad neighbour . The six-counties of the North remains under British rule. This puts us in the absurd position of having one quarter of the island, one quarter of the country, operating according to a different and appalling set of rules from the rest, as if the virus will respect what is an open border.

Since the days of James Connolly socialists have always opposed the reactionary partition of Ireland imposed by the British Empire in 1922 to safeguard its investments in the North. But now the question of an all-Ireland response is not just an abstract principle but an immediate practical necessity and again People Before Profit, both North and South, are in the forefront of raising this issue.

A host of other issues have arisen across the island: the question of workers’ rights at work and the fate of workers ‘let go’ – 140,000 in the last few days, set to rise by a further 200,000 by the weekend; the urgent need for more testing and for support for care workers whose job is to visit the vulnerable; the need for an Emergency Relief Fund comparable to the €64 billion mobilized to bail out the banks in 2008 and many others. On all these questions socialists need to give a lead, particularly as the official trade union movement seems to have gone missing in action.

John Molyneux is a member of People Before Profit in Ireland end the editor of Irish Marxist Review

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