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Can’t you see this is a land of confusion? The genesis of mixed messages

The Dorsal View

A round-up of medical news and oddities from left field by Doug Witherspoon

The people of our little nation are in quite a tizzy at the moment and really, it’s hard to blame them for being confused, not to mention a little angry, over some of the recent developments and guidance around SARS-CoV-2. But let’s deal with the confusion first.

If you’re on one of the myriad social media platforms, you will have seen the many comments from frustrated people who feel there is a lack of full clarity around the latest raft of Government guidelines to help curtail the spread of Covid-19. At time of writing, the wee ones are trying to get their sleep patterns back on track and the number of cases is showing worrying signs of increasing.

According to the latest guidelines, while outdoor gatherings are limited to 15 people, up to 50 revellers can attend a wedding. What if the wedding festivities take place partially outdoors? We are to maintain social distancing and wear face masks in supermarkets etc, but close-contact sports can resume, while private buses can operate too.

I could go on, but perhaps the most baffling decree is that pubs may remain open, but only those that serve meals, and only until 11.30pm. I wasn’t aware that shepherd’s pie and chips have protective properties against Covid-19 and that the virus gets its second wind around midnight.

Anyway, according to RTÉ, “the Taoiseach has rejected claims that there is confusion or mixed messaging over the recent measures to curtail the spread of Covid-19.” So that’s the end of that matter.

And then there’s the anger. The public are understandably furious that people such as the now former EU Commissioner Phil Hogan flouted the Government’s rules by attending a dinner and Oireachtas Golf Society outing, as well as stopping off in his apartment in Kildare during lockdown in the county and other destinations throughout the country. Arguably most damning of all, Hogan was issued with a caution by gardaí after being stopped for using his mobile phone while driving, a dangerous and irresponsible act at the best of times, but for the Government, the timing is terrible.

And therein lies the crux. Senior politicians have praised members of the public for adhering to restrictions that they may have perceived to be over-cautious and even draconian.

Despite Hogan’s eventual resignation, to see a senior politician flouting the restrictions everybody else is supposed to abide by with a perceived arrogance and impunity is incredibly frustrating to the point of being infuriating.

This could result in at least some people disregarding some of the restrictions in the only act of rebellion they have available to them. As Micheál Martin well knows, in politics, it’s all about ‘the optics’.

Of course, people need to choose their sources of information and advice wisely and exercise a bit of good old-fashioned common sense. Don’t take that for granted – it’s not so long ago that people were shoulder-charging each other for a pack of toilet paper or some hand sanitiser.

And so to advice from the Terence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading sexual health/HIV charity. The Trust released advice last month on how people should adjust their sex lives during the pandemic, including that people need not now fully refrain from having sexual relations with each other (no, I wasn’t aware that previous advice existed either).

Now, the Trust is advising people that it’s okay to have sex, but that they should avoid kissing and wear face masks while doing so. It added that it is no longer realistic to ask people to refrain from sex altogether. The interesting part of that is how they thought it was a realistic proposal in the first place, particularly during lockdown.

The practical guidance from the Trust is rather detailed and may cause a few blushes, so I’m curtailing my synopsis of its recommendations to better suit the sensibilities of our learned readers. But the basic advice is to question any potential sexual partners regarding their history, and that of their family, in terms of Covid-19 symptoms and testing. This includes quizzing them on symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, and loss of sense of smell or taste.

In addition, if people absolutely must be intimate with each other, they are advised to wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds before and after sex. Add in the mask and the ‘no kissing’ advice and that’s probably enough to put many people off anyway.

However, the Trust does note that since social restrictions were introduced in the UK, 84 per cent of people had abstained from sex outside of their immediate household. This will by its nature curb the number of sexually-transmitted infections and if we follow a similar pattern in Ireland, we can expect to see a similar trend here.

‘Every cloud’, and all that.

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