Blog Global Health Center COVID-19

A contrasting response to COVID-19: Ireland and the United States

Written by Farhana Nabi, MD candidate at the University College Dublin & University College Dublin Scholar in the 2020 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

The week of March 15th, I packed and unpacked my bags several times as I considered moving back home to Brooklyn. I had just gotten back from a road trip through Spain, where I luckily caught a flight out of Malaga just before the city implemented lockdown. Upon arrival in Dublin, Ireland, many of my friends had either already gone home or were preparing to leave. I decided to stay.

Ireland only has about 2.3 hospital beds per 1000 people. While the Health Services Executive (HSE) did not reveal the number of ventilators available in Ireland, The Irish Times reports that in early March, one of Ireland’s main hospitals only contained 16 ventilators and ICU beds with 5 ventilators in storage. Given such statistics the Irish health care and hospital systems would have easily been overwhelmed if the outbreak remained uncontrolled. However, an early, united, and strict response to the pandemic has left Ireland with only 5 new cases per day at this time.

By the second week of March, Ireland’s government had already started encouraging social distancing, cancelled schools, banned large gatherings, and warned against house gatherings. By the end of March, the government mandated stay at home orders against all non-essential workers and implemented a movement restriction of 2 km or about 1 mile. These restrictions were executed by law enforcement, going as far as to set up road checkpoints. In addition to movement restrictions, government subsidies were distributed as early as March to prevent negative financial impact and a $240 million plan was constructed to use Aer Lingus planes to fly personal protective equipment from China to Ireland.

Figure 1. A Timeline of Early Measures Implement in Ireland Source: RTE

While Ireland’s government worked to implement policy, their citizens showed a united front. As I walked to get groceries, I witnessed people jumping six feet to maintain social distancing. Hundreds of students volunteered to deliver groceries and medicine to the elderly so that they could avoid any unnecessary risks. Grocery stores provided designated hours for the elderly to shop and provided free or cheap delivery for anyone who needed the services. There was an overall sense of responsibility, consideration and community.

On May 17th, I returned home on a flight with only 15 people. When I arrived in Brooklyn here’s what I found. No one jumped to maintain the six feet social distancing recommendation, in fact, even in an aisle with only two people I witnessed shoulders bumping. Millions of Americans had yet to receive their first stimulus payment. Protests in Washington called for the opening of beauty salons even as the number of new cases failed to steady. Administrative failures left hospitals with a continued shortage of personal protective equipment. The US federal government refused to take a united approach to COVID-19, leaving each state to handle matters independently.

The result: as of July 19, there were 63,591 new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Without a united approach to the rising crisis we cannot overcome this pandemic. Ireland is an excellent example of the positive outcomes that lie ahead if there is compromise and collaboration between the people and government in the face of this pandemic.