The Irish Times is reporting this morning that the Dáil is in session to pass the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill in order to give the government authority to take drastic steps to contain the virus and save the lives of Irish people.
According to the paper, the legislation will “include income supports for people who are diagnosed with the coronavirus or self-isolating, and give the State powers to direct people to stay in their homes and detain those believed to have the virus who refuse to self-isolate. It would also allow for events or gatherings which pose a clear risk to public health to be prohibited, or to order entire regions into lockdown.”
I’ve seen on Twitter that many people are calling for the measures to have a sunset clause–that is, a provision that puts a time limit on how long the government has to exercise these extreme measures. I’d say that’s a good idea, but that any such provision should also include the option to renew the powers, because we just don’t know how long this crisis is going to last, and we can’t predict the course of the epidemic.
Giving the government extraordinary powers like the authority to order an entire region (say, all of Cork city) into lockdown, or to arrest and detain people who aren’t following these orders, is scary and does have a tinge of authoritarianism. Certainly, I would be frightened if Donald Trump wanted to exercise such powers because I would be afraid that he would use them against his political enemies. I have more faith in the Dáil and in Leo Varadkar than I have in Trump (but hell, I have more faith in the intellectual capacity of a gazelle than I have in Trump).
Is there another option, though? Can we just leave the people to their own devices and hope that they keep their arses inside and act collectively to protect themselves, their families, their neighbors, and, yes, people they will never meet?
I wish the answer to that question were a resounding “YES!”
But it’s not. People on Twitter and on television have shown themselves impervious to facts, science, and the heartfelt pleas of their fellow citizens. Gemma O’Doherty, unsurprisingly, is pumping out disinformation about COVID-19 that will endanger the lives of the people who believe her bullshit. And if they weren’t endangering anyone’s lives but their own, I would say, “Have at it, ye gobshites, yer only hurting yourselves, and I’m frankly fine with that.”
But people who don’t take this threat seriously and insist upon going out in public, hosting large gatherings, denouncing efforts by the government to contain the spread of the virus as fascist and Nazi tactics, as these AltShite morons have been doing, are also endangering the lives of citizens who do want to follow the guidelines, and who do want to save people’s lives.
Humanity isn’t perfect. We need better science education in order to dampen the spread of quackery. We need better humanities education in order to help people to understand the history of pandemics and the philosophies behind humanitarian action. Indeed, we just need better education in general.
Luckily, one of the silver linings of this madness seems to be that parents are gaining an appreciation for how difficult it is to be a teacher. Maybe teachers will come out of this as a more respected profession–and then maybe teachers will be given salaries commensurate with the difficulty and importance of their jobs.