BACK TO WORK AND CONTAGION?

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time text: 10 mins)

According to news reports, the Government is considering a relaxation of restrictions and a return to work – but with people wearing masks1 and with monitoring of preventative measures. An obvious question is, if these measures are thought to be effective in future, why are they not being implemented now? And why not in the past? Will we be going back to work but also to contagion?

Conductor on Seattle trolley-bus, USA, masked against Spanish ‘Flu 1918.
(Image sourced: Internet)

PRESSURE TO LIFT RESTRICTIONS

          There is clearly some pressure to lift restrictions – many people want to be able to earn money and socialise as before. People want to go on holiday, get on with education and projects, visit relatives. Small businesses want to save themselves from bankruptcy or climb out of debt. And bankers and industrialists want to continue squeezing people for profits. The State too, in both its ‘national’2and municipal forms, wants to raise taxes to fund its essential services: power generation and supply, water purification and sewage treatment, health service, postal and electronic communications, public transport and road maintenance, fire-fighting, refuse collection and disposal …. To all of those pressures the Government seems to be bowing – but have they thought it through?

In Germany, which has lifted some restrictions, people have been obliged to wear masks in public but even so, the authorities are urging people to be cautious, that they “will have to live with the virus” for some time. In other words, “forget about going back to normal, probably for a long time”. Initial statistics show a rise in infection cases there after the lockdown easing.  In Britain, especially England, trade unions have attacked the “mixed messages” from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnston, about returning to work as “potentially lethal”.3

Germany experienced a rise in numbers infected after relaxation of lockdown.
(Image sourced: Internet)

So, about the pressure. Ordinary working people have bills, mortgages and rents to pay, small business people have the same and clearly a state needs to have money to fund essential services. Yes, and big companies and banks are pressurising too. And we all know how successful banks are at pressurising governments, don’t we?  Especially our governments.

Apart from banks and building societies, the Government could ease the pressure on ordinary working people and small business people by declaring a moratorium on mortgages and rents for the duration of loss of earnings due to the pandemic. Yes, it would need to take powers to do that but wouldn’t most people support them in doing so?

The building societies, banks and big businesses wouldn’t support it however, all of which are interconnected. Well, when the banks and building societies messed up – and not for any reason like a pandemic, either – our governments forced US, the ordinary working people, to bail THEM out. In fact we’re still paying for that out of our national reserves and in cuts in all kinds of provision. A little bit of “comes around” would do them no real harm.

As to the finances to run the essential services of the State and of local authorities: end the tax write-offs, holidays and low taxation rates etc. And change the line on “We don’t want Apple to pay us the money which even the neo-liberal capitalist EU says they owe us!”. Yes, we DO want it – and we NEED it, ALL of it and NOW!

Industrial workers masked against the Spanish ‘Flu pandemic in Britain 1918.
(Image sourced: Internet)

“FALSE CONFIDENCE”

          The German authorities, with a much more efficient and better-funded health service and financial reserves, have been warning its public about false confidence. Now and again we see some indications of that here in Ireland too.

OK, so a section of the public is not properly educated or just willfully ignorant – stupid even. But if when you introduce a lockdown to deal with a pandemic you talk about it being for an initial two weeks ….. what kind of message are you giving out? And if you tell most people not to bother with masks or gloves? And if in the early days of the pandemic told them firstly that public events would not need canceling4 and then that to attend outdoor events of up to 500 and indoor events up to 100 people5 was basically safe? If the responsible authorities never seemed to be taking it all that seriously until late in the day and even then have managed it quite lightly – are some people to be blamed for having false confidence?

Another cluster of infections has just come to light, ten meat processing plants accounting for 566 cases so far. Prof. Catherine Motherway, President of the Intensive Care Society was reported as cautioning that a lot more needs to be done before restrictions are eased. “We need to know that our health system can cope … find and isolate the cases and treat them.”6

New York street cleaner masked against Spanish ‘Flu infection, 1918.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

FACE-MASKS NOW – BUT NOT EARLIER

          According to reports, the Government will want us to wear face-masks when they relax the restrictions. But ….. weren’t they telling us from the start that there was no point? Wasn’t even the World Health Organisation playing down their usefulness?

Well, either they know they don’t work, in which case they just want us to feel safe enough to start the wheels of industry turning and the money flowing into the big accounts …. Or they know they do work, and they’ve been advising us wrongly all along.

That’s where my bet is and I’ve written about this already, weeks ago7. It’s bloody obvious that face masks must help prevent spread the virus and depending on the type and procedures employed, would also help protect the wearer to some degree. Quite a number of countries made wearing them in public obligatory. And now the Government will be doing that here too.

Good. But I just wonder how many people got sick – or even died – because the authorities discouraged them from wearing them earlier?

People wearing masks and “Wear a mask or go to jail” placard, 1918, during Spanish ‘Flu pandemic, probably USA.
(Image sourced: Internet)

The Government has yet to specify where the masks are going to come from and, little respect as I have for any person prominent in the Labour Party, Alan Kelly TD is obviously correct when he says that the Government should be organising the production of those masks NOW!8

OTHER MEASURES AND MONITORING

          Face-masks help you not to spread droplets on to other people – and you don’t know for sure whether you have the virus or not, because you can carry it for a few days before it starts to show. Good face-masks will help you not catch it from someone else too. But you really need gloves as well and a good procedure in removing the gloves and face-mask, combined with hand-washing. And of course, social distancing. To be honest, with all those being practiced, there should be no need for 2km distance from home limits on exercise or travel – or even for telling older people to stay indoors, vulnerable to depression and ill-health through lack of exercise and even to accidents in the home.

But, for effective measures, don’t they/ we need to know who is infected and who is not? And where the major infection points in society are to be found? Yes — and for that we need mass testing, which our Government has not been doing because of how the health service has been run down. Not even with sending test samples away (to Germany) for analysis!9

And then we need tracking, tracing where people think they may have got infected, who they may have infected in turn, testing them …. the proper pandemic scientific procedures. But our Government is hardly doing that either. We get the following estimates10 of infection sources based on people who tested positive: 34% close contact, 63% community contact, 3% travel abroad.11 But what do these categories actually mean?

OK, “travel abroad” is reasonably clear. “Close contact” might mean family, close friends, lovers, elderly relatives in nursing homes (more about them further on). But “community contact”, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the total? Would these be neighbours, workmates? You know what I suspect? Shops and supermarkets – customers and staff – are a big section. Why? Because most people visit them at least weekly and the precautions taken there have been all along — and are still – inadequate. But the authorities don’t do the tracking to find out. Or if they have, they’re not telling us.

Customers in a supermarket (none seem to be taking any precautions other than perhaps social distancing). (Photo source: Internet)

The fact that it was only last week that a high cluster of infection around meat-processing plants was revealed shows the need for testing, tracking and testing again and how little work on that level is being done. Ten sites with 566 people infected12 so far is not something that should be coming to light over two months after the first case was identified in Ireland.

Who will carry out the monitoring, ensuring best practice and compliance? I’d like to believe that whichever body the Government sets up will do a good job but unfortunately I doubt it. It was left up to the supermarkets and shops to monitor their own provisions and they did it late and inadequately13. The Government at first even left it up to the pubs whether to remain open or not! Now this body appointed by them, aware of the lack of enthusiasm of the Government to interfere with the business of making money, will be supervising and monitoring every factory, shop, depot and farm? Really?

In this small relatively low-industry state of the 26 Counties, the Health & Safety Agency recorded 22,500 non-fatal workplace accidents reported to it for the year 2017-2018, along with 48 fatalities. Remember that all generic studies maintain that most and possibly all accidents at work are avoidable and result from lack of awareness or of appropriate training, or of fatigue as well as from bad practices, bad supervision and badly-maintained equipment.

The understaffed HSA is not adequate to the task of monitoring even a representative sample of workplaces and relies a lot on accidents and breaches of regulations being reported to it; the trade unions in general are not up to the job either, especially with the low percentage of union membership of recent decades.14 So whichever agency is set up for monitoring good working practices during the pandemic, even if such adequate practices have been identified and published, is not likely to be up to the job either.

Masked Clerical Female Workers during Spanish ‘Flu pandemic 1918, probably USA.
(Image sourced: Internet)

But at the very least that agency should publish its general guidelines and insist each workplace publish the specific procedures in place along with the underlying rationale. Then at least employees and public can see what they are, complain if they are felt to be inadequate and report those that are not being practiced. And gloves and face-masks at least should be provided for all, with work practices adapted to allow for them.

THE DISPOSABLE PEOPLE

          As soon as the pandemic took hold in other countries, a high percentage of infected people were known to be healthcare workers – around 10% as an average. Even if you didn’t realise straight away that nursing homes were going to have a high rate of infection, as soon as you thought about healthcare workers you’d be quick getting to that point (and one step away from thinking about homeless hostels and direct provision centres etc too). Once you thought of the high vulnerability of those facilities, you’d make special provisions for them, wouldn’t you?

But no. No provision at all until a few weeks ago. No special issuing of guidelines for staff and visitors, insufficient PPE (protective equipment etc), low admission rates to ICUs for the infected ….. According to stats published at the weekend, 855 coronavirus-19 deaths have been associated with care homes and 740 of those were residents. And since the total deaths recorded within the state at that point were 1,429, well over half the deaths have taken place in care homes.

A shocking rate of attrition out of ineptitude for which the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team should be held responsible. Or …. was it even worse than that? These facilities contain, on the whole, people who are no longer economically active, people some might even consider a drain on society’s resources. And often low-paid migrant workers caring for them. Could it be that they were all just considered “disposable”?

end.

FOOTNOTES

2I use the term here to mean the whole of the State’s territory, well aware that a true national perspective would include not just the 26 Counties but also the Six County British colony.

9Remember how the smear tests samples for cervical cancer were also sent away for testing somewhere else?

11Yes and most intelligent people wonder why the Government allowed people to travel to an international rugby match in a country swamped with the virus and, even worse, not have them quarantined upon their return. And for heaven’s sake, why people can still leave and arrive at our air and marine ports and sit on planes next to one another with cabin crew having to bend close to attend to them during the flight, do a turnaround and bend close to another group of passengers on the flight back.

14And failed significantly even in ensuring protection of workers from infection during the pandemic so far.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/28/germans-urged-to-stay-home-amid-covid-19-infection-rate-fears?

https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-cases-in-germany-rise-after-lockdown-restrictions-end-2020-5?r=US&IR=T

Click to access hsa_stats_report_2019.pdf

WHERE THERE IS NO POLITICAL WILL …

Gárdaí ‘can’t’ enforce social distancing on visitors from the Six Counties…!

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time text: 5 minutes)

Irish Republicans looking at the sub-headline could be forgiven for bursting into laughter, for the Gárdaí, in particular the Special Branch, the political police, have never had any reluctance in harassing, arresting and even refusing bail to Republicans from the Six Counties.

And likewise with their counterparts on the other side of the British Border, who have never had much problem enforcing and even exceeding their laws with regard to Republicans from the Twenty-Six counties.

However, according to a news report in today’s breakingnews.ie, day-trippers from the Six Counties are flooding into the picturesque coastal areas of County Donegal and ignoring Coronavirus-19 legislation. The report says that the day-trippers are from “Northern Ireland” which is nonsense of course, since Donegal is the real Northern Ireland, i.e the northernmost geographical point of the country. And it is in Ulster too, though not under British occupation.

Anyway, back to the main issue in the report, which is that Donegal residents have been complaining that the Gardaí there are not enforcing social distancing on day-trippers from across the Border.

Garda Checkpoint Donegal (Photo source: Internet)

It appears that the Gárdaí were applying the Coronavirus-19 restrictions but were told that they could not. Why would this be? The laws against theft, assault and public disorder apply not only to residents in Ireland but also to visitors – why would laws intended to control a pandemic be any different? Indeed, one would think they’d be, if anything, more enforceable.

Meanwhile, “a Gárda statement” quoted in the report states that “anyone visiting the State even temporarily is amenable to such criminal laws of this State while visiting here.”

So it’s the law, applies to everyone including visitors, so … what’s the problem?

There is a saying that states that “where there’s a will, there’s a way” and it is difficult to see an explanation in this case other than that for some reason there is no political will to enforce the law on visitors from the Six Counties. Of course, if they were Republicans attending some Republican event, well in that case ……

THE VIRUS DOESN’T RESPECT THE BORDER”

          According to a number of Donegal public representatives, local people have been bombarding them with complaints about the incursions and the lack of Gárda action. Councillor Jack Murray, from the Inishowen area, saying he had been “inundated” with complaints about Gárda failure to apply the legislation to people from the Six Counties, said that “the virus does not respect the Border and tackling it should recognise that.” Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, a TD (member of the Irish Parliament, the Dáil) for Donegal, lives in Buncrana, a popular destination in the holiday season. “This error is unacceptable,” he said, “considering that all government legislation goes through the Attorney General’s office.”

Clearly, a rational response to the pandemic would require either an Ireland-wide approach or a strict closing of the Border between the two administrations. The authorities on each side have done neither.

At the end of February, the first person recorded positive for the virus arrived in Dublin from Italy aboard an Aer Lingus plane and was permitted to travel on to Belfast – she is/was a resident of the Six Counties. No quarantine was ordered for the rest of the passengers. And so on.

Ineptitude of Governments apart, it has never made sense to partition Ireland on economic, geographical or human rights grounds. Now we see that it doesn’t make sense on grounds of pandemic control either. How does it make sense? Well, on the wish of the rulers of Britain to keep a foothold in Ireland and of their loyal subjects in the Six Counties to remain in domination of that foothold.

Cartoon DB

GENERAL PROBLEMS WITH 2Km LIMITS

          To be honest, I have never seen the point of the 2km limit. Is it the case that you can infect or be infected by someone outside the 2km limit but not inside? Of course that does not make sense but how does this limit make any sense otherwise?

I don’t drive a car but if I did and were to get in my car in my garage, drive out to a secluded spot on the mountains, get out and walk, then return to my car and drive home, how would I have endangered myself or anyone else? If I went to a park or beach outside the 2km limit from my home and, while there, kept my distance from other walkers, how would I be endangering anyone?

The danger in general, we are told, comes from physical contact with people or being within two metres of them, when droplets from an infected person may reach us. Would that danger be reduced if everyone were obliged to wear a face-mask of any kind? Clearly. Yet not only are we not obliged to wear such masks in public but we are being actually discouraged from doing so by statements from the HSE (and also from the WHO). Would the danger be reduced if, in addition to wearing masks, we wore gloves in public and had a safe procedure for removing them at home? Obviously – yet we are not being informed, never mind encouraged, in this regard either.

End.

REFERENCE

https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/the-virus-does-not-respect-the-border-community-frustrated-laws-cannot-be-enforced-on-ni-day-trippers-996161.html

FRONTLINE ESSENTIAL WORKERS – VULNERABLE BUT NOT CONSIDERED

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 minutes)

We hear talk from time to time about essential frontline workers, a discussion the origins of which can be traced to the call on the Government to shut down all non-essential work. That of course raised the issue of what is essential work and therefore, who are the essential workers. High among the category considered essential were health practitioners and their rate of infection, when statistics were published, was exceeding 25%. But there is another group of workers who are essential and vulnerable and although most members of the public are in contact with them on a weekly basis at least, nevertheless they are given little protection and rarely mentioned.

          Essential workers include, apart from healthcare workers, those maintaining our supplies of clean water, electricity and gas, sanitation, agriculture, production of necessary equipment, public transport, transport of essential supplies, fire-fighting, telecommunication (but not commercial call centres), postal services …. All of these should be in the first rank of consideration for protection from the Coronavirus-19, because they are vulnerable and for the selfish reason that we need them. But much more exposed on a daily basis to a greater number of people are the shop and supermarket workers.

Customer and staff both wearing mask and gloves in a foreign supermarket
(Photo source: Internet)

They are the most numerous of the essential workers in daily contact with the public, which puts them at risk and, if they become infected, puts the general public, the shopping customers at risk too. And yet, their levels of protection organised by their employers are very poor overall. Despite this, we rarely hear them mentioned in public discourse, they do not receive particular attention from the Left and even their own trade unions are inactive on the issue.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE

          Let us take a moment to consider what should have been the measures put in place for these workers and for the public coming into contact with them:

  1. Immediate training program in prevention for all staff, with regular refresher or reinforcement measures

  2. Immediate supply of protective clothing, disposed/ washed after each break and shift, this to include face-mask and gloves

  3. Hand-sanitiser at every work station

  4. Wrap-around screens at all checkout points

  5. Disinfection routines for all work stations at shift changes

  6. No shelf-filling during hours open to the public or non-essential interaction between public and staff inside of six feet distance

  7. Staff in necessary close proximity to members of the public, including security staff, to be given special protection in clothing and in shift arrangements and testing

  8. Safe social distances enforced by restrictions on numbers of customers in store at one time

  9. Safe social distances marked for queues and enforced

  10. Regular disinfection of automatic checkout machines

  11. Supply of hand-sanitiser at all entrances/ exits and checkout machines for the public

  12. Prevention informational visual and audio prompts for public and staff

  13. All companies obliged by Government to publish their protocols so as to educate staff and public and also give a point of correction if either feel that the protocols are not being adhered to.

Some readers may protest that management had no previous experience of a pandemic, that some of these measures were implemented but a delay was inevitable and some measures are too extreme. I would respond that any group of reasonably intelligent people, knowing the danger and typical transmission routes, sitting down to think of precautions, would come up with a similar list. Companies are supposed to carry out risk assessments of their procedures.  Trade union officials and representatives would be trained in how to assess levels of risk and how to employ measures to eliminate or reduce the level of risk as much as practicable.

Should anyone consider any of those measures excessive, they should be able to point out which and to say why. Or likewise justify the claim that late implementation was unavoidable.

Notice on screen in one shopping chain.
(Photo source: Internet)

WHAT WAS DONE

          Let us now take a moment to review which of those measure have been implemented, how and when.

  1. I am not in a position to give a definite answer on whether staff were given intensive training in avoiding infection or not but from my observation while shopping of staff in a number of supermarkets I would feel confident in saying that they had not or, if they had, that the required practice was not being monitored by management.

  2. Even to the day of writing this piece, in only one workplace, Eurospar in Fairview, have I seen all the staff wearing face masks. Workers in a number of other companies have told me that they are not supplied with them.

  3. Hand-sanitiser was supplied to work-stations in some supermarkets (possibly all) but weeks after the pandemic hit Ireland (though it had been raging abroad for many weeks before that and covered in news reports).

  4. No screens were in place at work-stations until weeks after the arrival of the virus and even now are rudimentary in many places. Single screens with spaces between permit staff and customers to position themselves in the open spaces, which I have seen both do at times. A number of cashier screens with an open section for customers to receive and load their checked-out purchases are well inside six feet of the staff member.

  5. Whether there are any such shift-change disinfection routines at any supermarket I cannot say but in some supermarkets I have seen staff leave or take up work at a station without any evidence of its disinfection.

  6. I have seen frequent shelf-filling during-open-to the-public hours in Dunnes, Tesco, Centra and Aldi (I have not been in a Lidl since the virus arrived) and even without gloves; also unprotected staff moving among customers on other pieces of work, including stacking and removing empty baskets. Even this evening in a Tesco outlet, although at least they were wearing orange (?) gloves, staff were attending to shelves (and without face-masks, as was the staff member stationed near the automatic machines).

  7. In addition to the above, staff maintaining queue lines, including security staff: every single one without masks and all being passed by customers at distances inside of six feet. The most shocking case was of a security guard in Tesco Drumcondra being passed by customers at distances of between one and three feet – he had no mask and only his company uniform, which he probably takes home to his family and puts on again next day. As to testing, given the long waiting times reported for testing and even longer for results, along with the general level of care for employees shown by the companies, how likely is any are being regularly tested?

  8. Yes but in at least one case, I saw that the security guard on the door monitoring numbers was absent for awhile. Of course, there are calls of nature but shouldn’t the protocols require the temporary replacement of the person at this post? Would we wish to be the ones who were infected because this probability had not been foreseen and provided for?

  9. The safe social distances for queueing customers – but not among staff — are now being enforced in most supermarkets, weeks after the arrival of the virus (but I noticed today that the separation is actually less than the advertised two metres).

  10. I have very rarely seen disinfection of automatic machines.

  11. In a local Centra, the first I saw to erect perspex screens, there was a sanitiser dispenser at the entrance with instructions. On at least one occasion it was empty and I have seen customers pass it without using it or having it called to their attention. I saw none in any other chain supermarket, although in Aldi a spray was provided by the baskets with instructions to use it on the basket handles.

  12. Prevention information posters may be seen but usually of the most generalised kind (like those from the HSE) and asking for staff to be treated with patience; graphic posters very rarely, film and audio prompts never. In other words, the means supermarkets use when they really want something, like mood enhancement, customers aware of bargains or special promotions, urgent attention to a checkpoint machine or stores about to close – are precisely those that they are not using for promotion of infection prevention.

  13. The Government has not obliged companies to publish their protocols (not even suggested that they should do so) and the companies have not done so themselves.

Customers in a supermarket (none seem to be taking any precautions other than perhaps social distancing. (Photo source: Internet)

CONCLUSION

          This is a serious lack of care provision for a large section of essential workers and with a potential collateral effect on most of the public. First in line of responsibility for this failure must be of course the companies but their main motive has always been profit. Next in line must be the Government, which has the power to implement emergency measures (and used it recently with giving extra power to Gardaí an courts to employ against individuals) but our governments have always been primarily in the service of capital. Who do I personally blame most for this area of neglect? Those whose very publicised reason for existence is the protection of workers and the promotion of a just society – the trade unions and the Left.

Among the statistics that are published on rates of testing positive and deaths attributed to the virus, there are breakdowns into age and gender groups and, at least in the earlier days, of healthcare workers. We never see, among those statistics, any for shop workers. Or for those who might in turn have been infected by them. The largest statistic given for route of infection is that of “social contact” and presumably that’s where they are, hidden. We remain uninformed and the low level of protection continues, with no real effort being made to change the situation.

End.

PS: Readers may wonder at the absence of information directly from the workers themselves.  The reason is that personally I am unaware of anyone in my acquaintance working in this sector and did not wish to cause the workers more stress than they have to deal with already.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

For focus on steps trade unions and the Left failed to take, see article titled WHAT DID NOT HAPPEN in Rebel Breeze.

Death of a cashier: https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-health-coronavirus-france-supermarket/after-death-of-a-cashier-french-supermarket-staff-work-in-fear-idUKKBN21K1VH

 

THE ISSUE UNMASKED

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 10 mins)

To wear a face-mask or not?  This article seeks to clarify some of the issues of conflicting advice around the advisability or otherwise of people who are not healthcare frontline staff wearing face-masks.

          There has been some discussion around this on social media and in my sphere some of it particularly tense and even illogical. I have observed at a number of times throughout my life that the reaction of some people to a stressful situation is to create more stress around it – as human behaviour one assumes it must have a function, though I find it difficult to see what it might be. However, the question, with possible repercussions to general safety from the Coronavirus-19 is a serious one.

It is worth remarking that some bad advice and information about the Coronavirus-19 has circulated on social media and even been given by Governments. I myself have seen advice on drinking hot drinks as an effective remedy and I am aware that the President of an East European country claimed that drinking vodka killed the virus or prevented one contracting it. Why anyone should wish to put out unscientific advice about such a serious matter is beyond me but it has happened a number of times from different sources.

FACT AND ARGUMENT

          There is general agreement that the primary method of contamination by the virus, especially in the case of no physical contact with an infected person, is by droplets from a person who has the virus passing it on to us. The method of passing these droplets might be sneezing, coughing, spitting (for example unintentionally, during speech). The virus then lingers on our face until we convey it to our mouths by touch from the infected area, or by inhalation etc, from whence it proceeds to infect our lungs.

That being so, it is completely counter-intuitive and appears to contradict logic to say that masks would be of no preventive use whatsoever. However, intuition is sometime wrong and many times what has been promoted as “common sense” has turned out to be merely an expression of prejudice or ignorance – or belief in an individual or institution. So maybe a face-mask provides no protection, right? Well no, because frontline health practitioners are wearing them and in fact there is some agitation about their not being available in sufficient numbers for their use.

A SCIENTIFIC ARGUMENT AGAINST EFFICACY OF FACE-MASKS?

          OK, so what is being said by the main group of face-mask-usefulness deniers, from my observation, is that the particular face masks used by those health professionals, with a filter, is a good defence against contracting the virus from direct contact with infected droplets to the face. But only those. OK, that might be so, in which case we’d expect to be given a rational scientific reason. However, no-one arguing with me has supplied such an explanation nor have I seen scientific argument justifying it. In fact, I have seen, quite apart from my “common sense”, scientific evidence that seems to show that other types of face-mask do indeed help to prevent direct droplet infection.

So why are some authorities arguing against it? A conspiracy theorist might suggest those who rule us don’t want the expense of supplying us with those masks but, considering the effect this pandemic is having on our economy, I would be inclined to dismiss that explanation. What I tend to believe instead is that the authorities fear that wearing such masks will give us a false sense of security, leading to incautious behaviour and a greater chance of contracting and spreading the virus.

If that were so, why don’t they give us the best advice all around about face-masks but still strongly advise us about the other precautions, such as wearing gloves, washing hands with soap, keeping a distance of six feet etc? I would assume they don’t do that because they don’t trust us, they think most of us are stupid. The behaviour of some during this pandemic would indeed seem to prove their point which in some ways might not be surprising; if you deprive people of responsibility for most things that regulate their lives, it’s somewhat contradictory to then expect them to act responsibly. But in fact, most people have been acting responsibly – and caringly. And neither the Government, the HSE or the capitalist concerns are in a great position to be lecturing us on our lack of responsibility – but I leave that for another day’s discussion.

I am not a scientist and I have not done a huge amount of research but I think I have done enough to convince me that wearing of most kinds of face-mask in public does indeed provide some protection against direct contaminated droplet contact. And in fact, even many of those who say it would not give the wearer any protection do admit that it would give other people some protection from an infected person. And since one can be carrying the virus for some days without exhibiting signs of it, surely everyone should be wearing a face-mask in public? EVERYONE!

When I was employed managing teams working with homeless people and/ or substance misusers, our health safety advice was to assume that anyone we worked with was HIV positive. Because you can never know for sure.

The advice being put out from the HSE is that in the case of this virus no face-masks except the special ones work. However, the World Health Organisation began in the early days by saying it would help but lately says only that it would only help to prevent its spread. Well, well …. only help to prevent its spread? ONLY?

COUNTRIES ENCOURAGING OR ENFORCING GENERAL FACE-MASK WEARING

A number of Asian countries insist that the level of transmission in their countries is much lower than in some European countries and they ascribe that to the universal wearing of face-masks. Czech Republic says the same. I have not seen statistics to confirm those claim but nor have I seen a statistical refutation. The US Centre for Disease Control recommends everyone wear face-masks.

I have seen reported an experiment which seems to prove that the droplets do not pass through a cotton-and-paper barrier (see the accompanying video for the experiment and also practical demonstration on how to construct such a reusable face-mask from a T-shirt). I have also read an article in the well-respected medical journal The Lancet, discussing the scientific merits of the arguments for and against.

I think the evidence tends to support the case that wearing most kinds of face-mask does help protect the wearer but the fact that they help in preventing the spread to others should be enough on its own to encourage us all to wear them.

There are some social issues with wearing the masks that have emerged in some parts of the world and I list the ones I have come across:

  • STIGMA: People may shun someone wearing a mask as they consider the wearers to be infected. So what, if they have an effective role? And isn’t countering this a job for the responsible authorities, community organisations etc?

  • EXCLUSION: Some facilities may refuse to permit entry to people not wearing face-masks, as is apparently the case in Hong Kong. But the exclusion has a fairly simple solution.

  • EXPENSE & RACKETEERING: Yes, we saw some examples of that here in Ireland with some suppliers of latex etc. gloves and hand sanitiser gel. If we learn how to make effective ones we can overcome this problem but, in any case, the benefits of wearing the mask outweigh the negative aspects involved in supply.

Image sourced: Internet

WHO SHOULD WEAR THE MOST EFFECTIVE FACE-MASKS?

          Some people have put forward the argument that no-one but the front-line health professionals should wear the most effective models and I have even seen posters on the internet telling people not to wear one unless they are infected. Their reasoning is that there are not enough of these available to supply those who need them most. Well that seems to make sense except that their condemnation is often directed at the occasional non-healthworker person wearing such a mask rather than at the Government and HSE which have not laid in sufficient stocks.

Is it an issue that many people are wearing the special face-masks and that is the reason health-workers are not being supplied with them? Certainly there has been no evidence of this in Ireland.

Some concede that certain high-risk groups are entitled to wear the special face-masks also, which is very gracious of them.

On a personal note, my special mask was given to me as a gift, I did not seek it nor was I aware of its special nature when I received it. In addition, on a number of counts I do belong to a high-risk group; readers are free to believe or disbelieve me but I do not intend to explain that or to justify it.

On this and other general questions I would encourage people to concentrate on the overall issue and to be a part of the solution rather than add to the problem.

Feel free to comment on the scientific and practical points made in this article but please do not respond with purely personal opinions or those substantiated by restricted sources (e.g “HSE professionals have told me”) and without dealing with sources and points listed here.

End.

REFERENCES:

World Health Organisation (somewhat equivocal): https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks

European Centre for Disease Control (also somewhat equivocal): https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/COVID-19-use-face-masks-community.pdf

Article containing video with scientific test report and instructions on making an effective mask: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/06/how-to-make-no-sew-face-mask-coronavirus?fbclid=IwAR06lGIjK_BT-IDrU0E9ztTvudsFVf1B48e-2XSKEK5n1IZzA0kKxT0MmdM

Guardian article: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/11/can-a-face-mask-protect-me-from-coronavirus-covid-19-myths-busted

Lancet article: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(20)30134-X/fulltext

CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?!!

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 mins. this article)

On a day when it is claimed the rate of infection is dropping (but with the highest number of infected and dead yet in Ireland), the social distancing and lockdown measures are said to be working. But Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tony Holohan denies that doing this earlier would have lowered the infection rate! And Eoghan Harris tweets a pat on the back for his Government that private health facilities are to be made available in the public health interest, a measure socialist TDs were calling for weeks ago. But Varadkar rushes to reassure that it’s not nationalisation – neo-liberalism will continue as before.

THE HOLOHAN PUBLIC FATIGUE SYNDROME

          Tweeting, Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of National Public Health Emergency Team’s IEMAG:
“The model reveals that before restrictions were in place, daily growth rate of confirmed cases was at 33%. This has fallen in recent days to around 15%. But it is still growing and needs to fall further.”

          To a person of average intelligence, this means that had these measures been introduced earlier, the graph curve would have begun to flatten out much before now. But Chief medical officer Dr. Tony Holohan is much more intelligent than that – way beyond the rest of us. Because that would have risked “public fatigue” and now is “the right time.” Well it must be the “right time”, mustn’t it, because that’s when he ordered it. He couldn’t have recommended it late, could he?

If “public fatigue” is the danger, that can come in at any time once the restrictions are in place, getting worse as time goes on – one would think. So if introduced say at the beginning of March, we’d be “fatigued” by now, wouldn’t we? So is he telling us that in a number of week’s time, with restrictions still in place, we won’t be “fatigued”? The logic is that we will just as fatigued whenever the crisis is over as if the measures had been put in place earlier – just that it would have been over more quickly and with less fatalities.

Of course, it won’t be over anything like that quickly. They have not even closed the borders, airports or sea-ports! And it’s not that I am in favour of the British colony’s Border, by the way, but this State and Government have no control over the colony’s airports and seaports. And how did the virus arrive in Ireland in the first place? Yep, by plane. But it’s ok, Holohan is going to “discuss” those options. And if they do – finally – close those ports and Border, it will of course be exactly “the right time” to do it.

Let’s return to this “fatigue” notion. What we are experiencing is a pandemic, a national emergency. The people of Leningrad withstood a hard fascist siege, running out of supplies, constantly bombarded, for 852 days. And the battle in defence of Moscow for three months and five days.

But of course, they were Russians (mostly). Alright, the people in Britain (quite a few of them Irish) withstood the Battle of Britain — with almost daily air-raids — for three-and-a-half months!

But the Irish, in Ireland, cannot stand a few extra weeks without becoming “fatigued” and – what? Flood the streets in civil disobedience? Start running up to people and brushing against them? Go back to jobs the Government has closed?

Could it be, just possibly, nothing at all to do with early “fatigue” syndrome but rather late actions reluctantly taken by a Government? Reluctant because it would deplete the capitalist coffers? The thing is, reprehensible as that motivation would be, if action had been taken earlier, capitalism would have suffered less and recovered more quickly!

NEO-LIBERAL POLICY BUSINESS AS USUAL

          Which brings us neatly on to Eoghan Harris patting the Government on the back for roping in the private healthcare facilities – weeks after being asked by Socialist TDs to do so. No, you’re right, he didn’t mention that bit. Well, you can’t get everything in a tweet, can you?

And Varadkar rushed to reassure the Gombeen capitalists he represents and the foreign capitalists his party facilitates – along with Fianna Fáil, Labour and the Greens – that this is not nationalisation.

“This is a public private partnership, expanding our public health service in response to this emergency but also cooperation with the private sector.”

This is private and public sectors to (sic) learning and growing together and working together in the common good.”

Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) of a defeated Government but has yet to step down.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

The private healthcare system has parasitised on the public health service, here and in Britain.  It has used existing public structures, services, contracts, buildings, personnel, training facilities, government grants and tax cuts.  It has no right to exist, least of all when the public body on which it has been feeding is staggering on its feet, in which state it has been long before this pandemic struck.

And Leo’s government, one of the leading proponents of the system that has caused this situation, let us not forget, was given a massive shove recently by the electorate!  With the state of the public health service being one of the main issues on which they were shown the road.

You could never accuse Varadkar of not having a hard neck!

End.

REFERENCE

https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/clearly-were-flattening-the-curve-but-we-need-more-progress-say-health-experts-991137.html

WHAT DID NOT HAPPEN

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 10 mins.)

One of the clerical staff knocked on the door of Patrick, the boss of the Irish health worker’s union. “Come in!” called out the latter.

Eh, Boss, lookit this here,” he said, waving a computer printout.

Why don’t you summarise it for me,” suggested Patrick.

It’s about that epidemic in China.”

Coronavirus-19,” replied Patrick, who prided himself on keeping up with world news. “What about it?”

It’s coming here,” replied the clerical worker.

What! Who says? Where does it say that?”

Boss, it’s spreading all over Italy and ….”

Yes, well but Italy is far away from here!”

Not as far as China is from Italy.”

Patrick thought about that but the clerical worker continued: “And the Ireland rugby team is playing there and nobody stopped Irish fans going there …. or coming back.”

Patrick sat silently, the enormity of the situation dawning upon him, then reached out for the computer printout. Among other things, it showed the steep climbing graph of confirmed cases of the virus in Italy.

Badge design of the FÓRSA union, the largest public service union in Ireland.
(image sourced: Internet)

After the clerical worker had gone, Patrick rang Michael, the President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Then he rang a number of union general secretaries: Brigid, of the shop and distributive workers, Barry of public transport, Jim of post and telecommunications, Josie of the clerical municipal workers, Colm of the manual municipal workers, Jan of construction ….

Two days later they all met in Liberty Hall, Dublin – thirty people, including chiefs of all the main trade unions in Ireland and of a few sub-divisions, along with their note-takers or advisers. By the end of three hours they had a position statement, including demands of the Irish Government, ready to go the moment the first case of the virus was confirmed in Ireland. They had ruled out issuing it until then because they feared it would not have enough effect.

A delegation was chosen to meet the Ministers of Health and of Industry. And pieces of work including research and requirements specific to some branches of the workforce had been distributed, with those responsible noted in the minutes and deadlines given. It was nearing the end of February.

The following day, the first case was notified in Ireland, a person returning from Italy.

Logo of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, to which most Irish trade unions are affiliated
(image sourced: Internet)

ICTU PUBLIC STATEMENT

          That afternoon, the President of the ICTU phoned the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Irish Government to alert him to the joint trade union statement and to push for an early meeting with the Ministers of Health and of Industry.

By midday four days later, the 1st of March, the updated statement had been emailed and faxed to all union branches, newspaper, radio and television news media and to a number of bloggers, most of which displayed it prominently, especially as that day the second case in Ireland had been diagnosed:

The Coronavirus-19 epidemic in Italy has now reached 1,694 confirmed cases of contagion with 34 deaths and only four months ago the first case of this virus was diagnosed in China. It has now reached Ireland and more cases will soon be reported here. As trade unions representing workers including those in front-line services of healthcare, food sales and distribution, public transport, post and communications, municipal services …. We call on employers and Government to ensure the following steps are taken as a matter of great urgency.

  • All front-line workers in essential services be issued with HSE information on the known dangers of the Coronavirus-19 and be updated regularly

  • Those workers to be issued with hand-sanitiser gel, gloves and face-masks

  • The term “essential services” to be applied to the following (the list is not exclusive):

  • general health workers and auxiliary services with special emphais on those to the elderly, disabled etc

  • emergency services in health, fire-fighting, public order, rescue services

  • workers in production and maintenance of power supplies for heating, lighting and cooking
  • workers in water purification and supply
  • workers in food production

  • workers in outlets providing food and essential supplies

  • delivery workers to the above and of these to homes

  • public sanitation workers

  • postal and essential telecommunications workers (i.e not commercial call centres)

  • Those workers to be where possible isolated from members of the public by appropriate measures such as withdrawal from duties requiring contact with the public, placing of transparent screens between staff and the public, recourse to audio and video communication, etc.

  • All covered public spaces, in particular those supplying essential services such as food shops, to be supplied with hand-sanitiser dispensers and notices exhorting the public to use them to prevent or restrict the spread of the virus

  • All companies to publicly display the measures they have taken to protect staff and the public

  • The closure of borders, airports and ports to travel to or from abroad, quarantine measures being enforced wherever arrivals are currently taking place

  • Should the virus continue to spread, all non-essential services should cease. This measure is not only for the protection of staff and public at the place of work but also in the travelling of workers from their homes to the place of work and back again

  • The above measure to be announced by the Government through public statements and to be enforced strictly wherever non-compliance should be observed

  • The Government to urge the public through repeated public announcements to self-isolate and to remain indoors where possible, urging responsible adults to ensure the same with children

  • The Government to freeze by decree all evictions, all actions for non-payment or arrears of rent or mortgages

  • likewise with actions pursuing non-payment of bills for utility services
  • The Government to oblige all companies that can afford it to pay workers they lay off

  • and to supply all smaller companies and businesses that cannot afford in full such payments, the necessary assistance to meet their obligations to the workers

  • The Government to set aside an adequate sum to pay all unemployed or on pensions a weekly sum sufficient to meet normal weekly expenses

  • The Government to propose for Oireachtas approval an emergency law authorising the appropriation of any buildings, private facilities, companies and property necessary for healthcare, production of prevention materials, production and distribution of food etc. 

Wherever we find the necessary measures are not being taken, we will instruct our members to take appropriate action, including withdrawal of their labour, picketing of the offending company or service along with providing comprehensive information to the public on the reasons for our actions and the risks to which they are being exposed through failure of the companies or services to take the appropriate action. We will not be negligent in the face of danger to our members and to the general public.”

View of the title of SIPTU, the largest union in Ireland, on its Liberty Hall HQ.
(image sourced: Internet)

ACTION

          Two days later, after the employers and Government had failed to respond in the manner considered necessary by the trade unions, strikes, walkouts and pickets were called at many branches of all supermarkets, postal service depots and public outlets, call centres, public transport depots, construction sites, local authority manual and clerical services, pubs and hotels. The unions of the health service workers, a workforce under-staffed, under-funded and under huge pressure already, maintained a rota picket with placards and leaflets in front of major hospitals and the Department of Health in Dublin. Lawyers and barristers picketed the courts, calling for them to close. All pickets wore surgical-type face masks and disposable gloves, and had with them a mobile stand with a hand-sanitiser dispenser.

Workers on successful 10-day strike against the Stop & Shop supermarket chain in the USA last year.
(image sourced: Internet)
(image sourced on Internet and cropped)

By the end of that week, the public pressure on the supermarket chains was such that all had provided sanitiser dispensers for staff at work stations and for customers at entrances and exits, glass screens separated all staff work-stations from customers, staff needing to work in the public area were all wearing face-masks and gloves and a big badge asking people to keep a safe distance. Shelf-filling and price-tagging duties were confined to hours when no public were present. Queue lines were marked out with spacing between customers and periodic announcements instructed

(image sourced: Internet)

customers on safety precautions. Numbers of shoppers inside were restricted at any one time and lines outside marked required spacing for people queuing outside. All staff were being given health precautionary instructions for a half-hour daily through interactive screens.

Furthermore, all main employers had published a list of their precautionary measures and were updating them in response to representations from unions, the general public and Government instructions or recommendations.

Workers in all main public services had been issued precautionary instructions, face-masks, disposable gloves and hand-sanitiser and workers in some particular conditions had protective suits.


CONCLUSION

          That is what could have happened and would have had an early restrictive impact on the spread of the virus to the public and to workers who provided a public service. The unions had the organisational and communication capacity to to do that. They didn’t do it – it didn’t happen.

Many of the measures indicated above – but by no means all – were taken but weeks later — and none at trade union initiative: unofficial workers’ action, voluntary company action and government order were the means by which they came into being. By that time, many front-line workers and members of the public had been infected.

The trade unions in Ireland, having already failed their members and the working class in general through two decades of “social partnership” (when a healthy “social distancing” would have been more appropriate!), followed by failure to resist (and collusion with) austerity measures, failed once again in anti-virus protection of their members and of the public.

Some left-wingers say we should not mention these shortcomings since average trade union membership is low and this kind of discourse will hardly help union membership recruitment. But if unions cannot or will not respond adequately and in timely fashion to the needs of their members in particular and to working people in general, why should people be expected to join them? Trade union membership is falling for a reason.

Perhaps these left-wingers feel that the current unions should not be criticised, without a viable alternative having being put in place first. But what are they doing to provide that viable alternative? The answer is clearly nothing, or as near to that as makes no effective difference.

Logo of Unite the Union, operating in Ireland and in Britain.
(image sourced: Internet)

THE FORBIDDEN DISCUSSION

          There is silence on this question from the broad Left, including those parties claiming to be revolutionary. When individuals raise the issue, it is not addressed or the individual is censored.

It is time to end this self-censorship on the Left and to proclaim loud and high that the trade unions in Ireland, despite the presence of many genuine activists, are generally not fit for purpose. What do we do instead? First, admit the problem and its scale – then we can discuss possible remedies. The patient cannot be cured if we refuse to admit the illness and the stage it has reached.

(image sourced: Internet)

Some of the left-wingers are now saying that this crisis has exposed the unsuitability for society of the capitalist system and that when it is over, that lesson must be put into practice and essential services become national public services. Apart from the weaknesses in this solution, one must ask: who is going to make this happen? If the capitalist system opposes this change, how will the capitalists and their State be overcome? A social revolution without a mass working class organisational base is not possible.

 

End.

APPENDIX

Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU)

There are currently 55 trade unions with membership of Congress, representing about 600,000 members in the …. (Irish state). Trade union members represent 35.1% of the Republic’s workforce. This is a significant decline since the 55.3% recorded in 1980 and the 38.5% reported in 2003. In the Republic, roughly 50% of union members are in the public sector. The ICTU represents trade unions in negotiations with employers and the government with regard to pay and working conditions (from Wikipedia)

Main trade unions

SIPTU: “… is the largest Union in Ireland with over 180,000 members.

SIPTU represents workers in both the public and private sector in almost every industry in Ireland and at virtually every level. SIPTU caters for full-time, part-time, permanent, contract and temporary workers, as well as retired and unemployed members.” (from SIPTU website)

Fórsa is Ireland’s newest trade union with over 80,000 members. …. represents members in the public service, as well as the commercial sector, state agencies, some private companies and in the community and voluntary sector.

Fórsa is the second largest union on the island of Ireland and by far the largest trade union voice in the Irish civil and public service.” (quoted from Forsa’s website)

The Connect Trade Union is the largest Engineering Union in Ireland and the second largest in manufacturing representing up to 40,000 workers.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), founded in 1868, is the oldest and largest teachers’ trade union in Ireland. It represents 40,633 teachers at primary level in the Republic of Ireland and 7,086 teachers at primary and post-primary level in Northern Ireland. Total membership is 47,719 (August 2019).

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland represents over 17,000 teachers and lecturers in Ireland engaged in Post-Primary, Higher and Further Education. The Union is made up of 62 branches in 19 areas. (quoted from TUI website).

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic, affiliate-led federation recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. ….. connecting trade unions from 147 countries …. We are the voice for 18.5 million working men and women across the world” (ITF website).

Mandate is a union of over 40,000 workers across Ireland.” (Wikipedia)

Unite the Union, commonly known as Unite, is a British and Irish trade union, formed on 1 May 2007, by the merger of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers’ Union. With just over 1.2 million members, it is the second largest trade union in the UK (Wikipedia).