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Malachi O'Doherty

Unquestionably, this lockdown is mind-numbingly tedious, but it is also saving lives by the thousand

Malachi O'Doherty


Now let's strike a medal for healthcare workers and pay the nurses what they deserve, writes Malachi O'Doherty

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An NHS mural (Niall Carson/PA)

An NHS mural (Niall Carson/PA)

An NHS mural (Niall Carson/PA)

There was a powerful introduction to The Late Late Show on Friday night on RTE. Ryan Tubridy spent several minutes extemporising direct to the camera to congratulate the Irish people. They had saved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives.

He talked of how the direction of growth of the coronavirus had been changed by the lockdown. One has only to do the simple maths on a doubling of infections every six days to reach millions within weeks.

I did the sums myself and worked out in early March that a million Irish people would be infected by the start of June. And, at the rate of doubling, that figure would be two million within another week.

At a rate of 1% dying, that would mean 20,000 in Ireland alone before the summer holidays.

Of course, the virus would run out of people to infect or would find it harder to jump to fresh meat if most of us had already been taken down.

That would be the herd immunity that the British flirted with as the solution.

Boris Johnson had talked of being the Superman who would defend the right of commerce to continue to function. We would "take it on the chin". And, in fairness to him, he did.

What opened his eyes to reality was not the prospect of huge numbers of people dying. His friends in the Daily Telegraph had even talked of the economic benefits of a "cull" of pensioners.

The decisive moment was when he realised that the National Health Service would collapse under the burden, many of the victims would die in their homes untreated, and it cannot have escaped his consideration that a Tory Government, which had pruned the NHS like a rose bush, would get the blame for that.

So we then saw a Tory Government follow the example of communist China and do something that Boris on his Caribbean holiday would never have contemplated: shutting down almost everything. By then this was what Western democracies did to save their health services.

Even Angela Merkel stressed in a speech last week that her objective was keeping the infection rate at a level the health service could cope with.

And we have seen some magnificent journalism in the last week from inside the intensive care units of hospitals, likening the doctors and nurses to front line troops in a war.

And every Thursday night we go out onto our doorsteps and applaud those magnificent people.

When this is over we will, hopefully, deal with the political incompetents who left them ill-equipped; and those who let care homes manage unaided and didn't even count their losses among the dead; and the idiots who let London bus drivers die for want of protective masks.

But Tubridy's speech was not about blame, it was about thanks. And not specifically for the front line warriors in the hospitals, but for the rest of us.

We are the ones who saved most lives. "You did it," said Tubridy. "You."

The trajectory towards megadeath and the breakdown of the health service was tamed by ordinary people following the rules, staying at home, keeping their distance and washing their hands.

A mathematician could probably put a number on the lives saved by each diligent individual. Collectively, it was tens of thousands. More lives even than those saved in the care homes and hospitals.

And Tubridy was saying we had a right to feel good about ourselves for doing that. And he is right. We do. And, yet, it had felt to most of us as if we were doing nothing. It's not too hard for me. I have good living space. I am a pensioner and my mortgage is paid. I still have an income from work that I can do at home, though I have slept in a few times and missed invitations to go on the Nolan Show.

For some, there is real effort and sacrifice in how they manage this. There was a woman interviewed from a high-rise flat last week. She spoke of having two children who bickered. She tried to teach them and entertain them. She spends a lot more time in bed now.

That woman deserves massive credit for what she is doing.

How do you keep a social distance from everyone if you access your home in a lift?

Yet there is a lot of suspicion out there that the lockdown and social distancing are doing more harm than good.

The success of the lockdown can be misrepresented as evidence that it wasn't needed. Business wants to get back to buying and selling.

Johnson himself was, at the start of this, determined to set an example to the world of his own personal heroism by keeping commerce at the front of our concerns.

And Donald Trump is cheering on protesters in the United States who want their state governors to relax the rules.

YouTubers are raging about how their constitutional freedoms should not be compromised to fight the virus.

And, framing it all as a war, which it is, one loon went as far as to say that Americans had died for freedom before and should be ready to die for it again.

Major protests are planned in several US states in the coming weeks and they will probably end up providing a demonstration of the need for a longer lockdown. The blowhards will not be persuaded.

Would they insist on walking past a rattlesnake because they have a right to?

And probably most of us are getting a bit sick of the lockdown anyway. You queue for half-an-hour to get into Tesco. You go out for a walk and try to keep six feet away from everybody, and runners and cyclists zip past you without a thought.

In fact you forget yourself sometimes to give people a bit of space, because that's what happens when you are exercising; your mind wanders, you relax your guard.

What Tubridy got right on Friday last was the need to acknowledge that lockdown is not just tedious, but hugely successful.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had mimicked Churchill by saying that, at the end of this, never would so much be owed to so few, meaning the healthcare professionals.

Actually, most is owed to the many. And most of the many had very little to do but stay home and watch daytime TV and save lives.

For others, it has been hell. We should coin a medal for them.

As for the nurses - pay them properly.

Belfast Telegraph