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The limits of personal responsibility

Due to the rise in Covid-19 cases, the IMO recently made a call for the public to redouble its efforts
to combat the spread of the virus. President of the Organisation Dr Ina Kelly said the next couple of weeks
will be critical, not only regarding the deteriorating Covid situation, but for the wider health service.

“Our GP surgeries, hospitals and ICU units are all under extraordinary pressure,” stated Dr Kelly.
“We are being hit by a perfect storm of high Covid numbers, the annual winter flu season and
shockingly high numbers on waiting lists.” Dr Kelly said that the public could help healthcare professionals by increasing their own vigilance and maintaining a strong sense of personal responsibility.

“People have done incredibly well over the past 18 months but the weeks leading to Christmas will be
critical,” she said. “For those who have yet to be vaccinated, please get the vaccine as a matter of urgency. For those who have been vaccinated, don’t treat the vaccine as a permission-slip to return to the old ways. Continue to
exercise caution. Wear masks. Wash hands and keep your distance.” Dr Kelly is a Specialist in Public Health Medicine and knows the measures necessary to curb the spread of the pandemic.

But is there a danger that those in power are let off the hook with these increasing calls for “personal responsibility”? In the baseball-fantasy film, Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character was repeatedly told, “if you build it, they will come.” In our all-too-real pandemic world, the Government would know after months of lockdown, “if you open it, they will come.”

Well, at least if they have proof of vaccination. Vaccine passes are of course important but, as the current surge shows, are not sufficient in halting the spread of the more contagious Delta variant, especially given how open society currently is, and the level of congregation taking place. Other measures, such as those outlined by Dr Kelly, are necessary. Whether it should mainly be up to the public to protect themselves and others, or whether more guidance and policies are necessary, is a matter of debate and needs to be discussed in light of how the situation develops as Christmas approaches.

Personal responsibility is important. But so too is Governmental responsibility. It is all well and good telling people to be careful. But if the public do not see any change in direction at official level in order to reduce the burden on our health services in the coming weeks, it will make it harder to make the argument that they need to modify their individual behaviours.

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