22nd April 2020 Dublin, Ireland
Living in Lockdown
I wanted to reflect on the Coronavirus crisis, the tragic loss of so many lives around the world and on actions that need to be taken to defeat the virus. The enormity of what is happening is incredibly difficult to come to terms with. Just like everybody else, I have never known anything like this despite spending 40 years as a diplomat and living through such historic ruptures as the end of the Cold War. The impact is dramatic at every level, including personal. I too am separated from friends and loved ones. I too miss the social things that we all enjoy so much.
But the stay home policy is successfully beginning to halt the spread of the Coronavirus both here in Ireland and in the UK. Most importantly, it is easing the pressure on the heroic health service professionals in both our countries. They are true celebrities. And they have been supported by some incredible displays of community spirit – with individuals pushing themselves to their limits and neighbourhoods coming together in support of those providing much needed care in ways that we have not seen in a generation.
We see it in the remarkable fundraising efforts of 99 year old Captain Tom Moore in Bedfordshire, who raised over £28 million for the NHS by doing 100 sponsored laps of his garden before his 100th birthday, and we see it in the likes of ‘Feed the Heroes’ here in Ireland who have raised almost €1 million to provide meals from local restaurants to hospital and emergency workers. These inspiring stories of human endeavour underline the great community spirit that exists, which will help us get through these dark times.
As an Embassy, we are participating in the weekly #Clapforourcarers in the UK, and joined with so many others in lighting candles in Ireland’s mark of respect for those who are sick and those who have lost loved ones – ‘Shine Your Light’. Such gestures cannot come close to showing our appreciation for those who are caring for us and our concern for those in need, but do demonstrate the importance of the solidarity, which we see daily across these islands.
Normally as a diplomat you spend your life explaining your country to people who don’t know it. This is not a problem I have ever encountered in Ireland. We are the closest of neighbours. But, while we share so much in common and have such close ties, our two countries are very different in some ways.
For example, the population density of the UK is nearly 4 times that of Ireland. So our strategies to tackle the Coronavirus will inevitably reflect our specific national circumstances. The same is true right across Europe. That said, the UK and Irish governments are in close touch and the Northern Ireland Executive is also playing a key role in helping to manage the North/South aspects of this crisis. Our Ministers and officials are in regular touch on both our domestic strategies for defeating the virus and the international aspects.
One area in which we have a clear common interest is in protecting supply chains. Both the UK and Ireland depend upon the import of goods. So the connectivity between our islands is crucial. Right now, we are working to ensure that transport links are maintained to protect the two way trade in vital food and medical supplies.
For the future, these routes will play an important role in helping trading businesses get back on their feet and supporting the economic restart on both sides of the Irish Sea. We are sadly also facing common challenges in how to care for the most vulnerable in our societies and how to procure protective equipment for our health services (no easy job when the rest of the world is doing the same). We can and will learn from each other on this too.
Of course, the coronavirus is not just a threat where we are. it is a global threat. So strong international collaboration is essential. The UK’s four-point plan for the international response includes helping: a) to secure a strong and co-ordinated global health response, particularly for the most vulnerable countries; b) to accelerate the search for a vaccine and new treatments; c) to support the global economy and keep trade open and d) keeping transport routes and transit hubs open, to support the flow of freight, aid, medical supplies, and to bring people home
Our direct contribution includes providing over £5.5 billion in financial support to tackle the pandemic and support the most vulnerable, including doubling the UK’s support to the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust.
Last week we announced the creation of a new UK Vaccine Taskforce to drive and coordinate efforts to research and produce a vaccine. And it’s great to see some signs of progress with Oxford University beginning human trials of a vaccine from this Thursday.
We are also funding the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to help ensure that a vaccine will be available at the lowest price to the NHS and other countries’ healthcare systems.
These are difficult times. There is no getting away from that. But thanks to the dedicated efforts of so many, especially our heroic health service professionals, we will come through this. Here at the British Embassy, now operating largely virtually, we really miss the contact we have with so many of you on a daily basis.
But if I may end by quoting Her Majesty The Queen, who celebrated her 94th birthday yesterday: “better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again”. We are all looking forward to that.