Last month I spent eight days in Ireland. I did a nice “Insider Bus Tour of Ireland” with a local Irish-owned company called The WorldTour. It was great.
I chose Ireland carefully. I chose Ireland because their Covid management has been excellent, because they have an 80% vaccination rate, because their case/death numbers are about half our rates per capita. I chose Ireland because they mostly believe in science and they haven’t had much anti-mask/anti-vaxx disinformation.
I went there because it’s only a 5.5 hour flight from Boston and because I don’t believe air travel is inherently unsafe when vaccinated. I went there because I wanted to get away from All-Covid-All-The-Time-Everywhere-Based-On-Voting-Patterns.
And I went to Ireland because my mother’s maiden name was Mollie Malone.
I made a self-promise to not do any Covid research or reading while I was gone, and it was a wonderful gift; I highly recommend a Covid news fast for everybody!
But still, it was interesting to see how another country is handling Covid.
Firstly, I had to show proof of vaccination (but not a negative test) to the airline before boarding in Boston and then immigration upon arrival in Dublin.
Then, the government was great at keeping us tourists informed. Our plane landed around 5 in the morning. By 10 am I had received a text from their Health Services with a phone number for a doctor in case I became ill.
The texts also supplied us with links to the Irish Public Health website with a list of symptoms to watch for, maps for clinics, lists of ERs, directions to hospitals, etc.
And right there in the first text they described their masking rules which are pretty straight-forward: masks on indoors and on public transport.
Sure enough, at each restaurant or cafe or fast-food restaurant, all the service people were meticulously masked. And at each place they asked if we were eating in or “would you be ordering the take-away?” (the gorgeous brogue slaying me every time)
If we were dining in, we were “registered”: the wait staff entered our names and cell numbers for contact tracing purposes; or sometimes there was a QR code at our table so we could automatically register ourselves with a single swipe. Then, days later, if somebody in the restaurant got Covid, we could be notified about our potential exposure.
People were consistently masked indoors except while eating. It was really rare to see a mask not cover a nose. There was tons of outdoor dining — entire blocks closed to cars and filled with tables instead.
And everywhere you went there were easy-to-access cheap Covid tests. Almost every pharmacy had walk-in tests and every little village had testing clinics in the town center. At convenience stores you stood at the counter and there were pastries, and Juicy Fruit gum, and Coca-colas, and candy bars, and Covid tests. Rows and rows of Covid tests. Eight bucks.
Pubs still had some capacity limits (60–75% if vaccinated; 50% if mixed), some but not all places had music. The government provides really clear direction on managing events — eg weddings are still limited to 100 people, and casinos and nightclubs still closed — but overall it felt pretty normal. It gave me hope that some day it will feel like that here.
So getting away was great (as they say: just what the doctor ordered) and Ireland was great; the cliffs, the green, the clouds, the Covid, the brogue, the sheep, the unabashed delight in language. And its history was a help to me — history is always a help to me.
To see an island that has endured so much, all those castles with their endless succession of drama and occupiers and plagues and famines, all those ancient tombs bearing witness to so many massacres and pandemics and privation and starvation, all those cliffs still standing after all those centuries of North Atlantic pounding….it was good to put us and our twenty months of suffering into some kind of perspective.
And it was good to see a society moving back towards some kind of vaccinated normal.
I know I’ve said a million times, “All epidemics always end.” As usual, the Irish say it better: “However long the day, the evening will come.”