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'If we start too early compliance levels go down': Why Ireland isn't implementing severe lockdown measures

In Italy the entire country is on lockdown, but Irish officials say it is not time for severe measures like that here.

WITH THE ENTIRE population of Italy now on lockdown due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus, there have been questions about why the Irish authorities are not implementing more severe restrictions.

Yesterday the Irish government confirmed all St Patrick’s Day parades would be cancelled, but it has not made recommendations against mass gatherings in general, or advised schools or workplaces to shut down as a precaution.

In Italy, where 463 people have died of the disease, residents have now even had their travel within the country restricted.

At last night’s briefing update on the situation in Ireland, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan described the measures in Italy as “pretty severe restrictions, from an economic point of view from a social point of view”.

He said these measures would cause “major economic and social impacts within that country, for people living there it must be very challenging”.

When asked why Ireland has not put in place similar restrictions yet, he said the government has to ensure it does not implement measures too early, as they may lose the public’s compliance if the situation continues for a long time. 

There are 24 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Republic of Ireland. 

He said if authorities have success in slowing down the progression of the infection, they may be able to delay the severe impacts of those measures on the population. 

“I think it’s important that we do not start them before they’re necessary, we’ll end up ultimately with a population whose compliance with them we require,” he explained. 

We will need people to comply with those arrangements and if we start things early, people get fatigued with them, they cause significant hardship socially and economically and the compliance levels go down and they lose their effectiveness.

“That’s a concern we would have. There’s a question around the identification of the appropriate measures and the timing of their implementation relative to the stage we’re at with the infection.”

He added: “It is an unprecedented situation to see a developed economy in Western Europe implementing quarantine type measures that are almost from a bygone era in terms of their impact.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning, Tánaiste Simon Coveney also said the government is trying to provide responses that are proportionate.

“If you shut a country down, you can cause significant damage to people’s quality of life.

So we’re trying to issue advice based on the public threat. We need to listen to experts. This response needs to be expert-driven rather than [politicians] going on a solo run. Meetings are happening literally every day.

Coveney added: “I think that what we’re trying to do here is to respond to a crisis as it develops, and [trying not to] use all your ammunition before [the situation] develops. The advice will be updated on a daily basis.”

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