Is pinning all the coronavirus blame on President Donald Trump fair? As Ireland suffers under a second lockdown no one is blaming the leaders here.
The population of the United Kingdom is 66 million. The population of the United States is 330 million, five times greater than the U.K. The number of COVID deaths in the U.K. so far is 45,000. Multiply that by five and you get 225,000, which happens to be the number of COVID deaths so far in the U.S.
So the COVID death rate is exactly the same in the U.K. and the U.S. Not that you would think that from the American media, which repeatedly states that the U.S. is "the worst in the world" for COVID deaths and that it's all Trump's fault.
The fact is that Trump is no more of a disaster in dealing with COVID than U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson -- and the numbers prove it.
Could both the U.S. president and the U.K. prime minister have done much better in their handling of the virus? Yes, they could. And so could leaders in other countries in Europe where the virus is now spreading again in a second wave.
Only in the U.S., however, is it suggested that it's all the fault of the leader. You don't see the same level of blame, ridicule, and contempt directed at Johnson, or any other leader on this side of the Atlantic.
It's true that much of Trump's behavior during the pandemic has been misguided and foolish. His frantic rallying in the past week -- abetted by Vice President Mike Pence who should be quarantining due to the number of his staff members who have COVID-19 -- is just the latest example.
But although the Trump rallies are dangerous, the numbers involved are minimal in the context of the spread of the virus across the U.S. To endlessly accuse Trump of being solely responsible for the COVID crisis in the U.S., as the media there does day after day, is too simplistic.
If he's so bad and it's all his fault, how come the COVID death rate is exactly the same in the U.S. and the U.K.? Perhaps the similarity is an indication that it may not matter who is leader because there is a great deal about the virus and its recurring waves that we don't yet understand? But it's easier just to heap the blame on Trump.
The difference between the commentary on the two sides of the Atlantic, of course, is that there's an election on in the U.S.
Almost all of the serious American media wants to dump Trump -- and they are entitled to their view. But in their efforts to get rid of him they have shamelessly exploited the COVID crisis and abandoned the objectivity they should be showing in reporting a complex situation.
Here in Ireland, we are now one week into our new lockdown which is scheduled to go on for six weeks. Apart from manufacturing, construction, schools, and stores providing essentials like food and medicine, everything here is closed.
Everyone is to stay at home, or within three miles of home if out for exercise. An eerie sense of unreality has settled over the country again.
This time there's an added sense of futility that was not there when we had the first lockdown in March. Back then the virus was new, the number of cases was escalating rapidly and we were all very frightened. Closing the country down was widely supported at the time.
This time the national mood is different. There is still general support, but it's less convinced.
Most of us obeyed the rules the first time and it worked, quickly reducing the case numbers to levels that no longer threatened our hospitals. After a few weeks of the first lockdown, we seemed to be in control again and it stayed like that over the summer. So why do we have to do it all over again?
The problem is it did not last. In the first week of July, the 14-day incidence of cases per 100,000 of the population was down to just three. By last week it was over 300.
The virus had taken off again and we are being blamed -- we relaxed too much over the summer, not always wearing masks, being careless about social distancing, meeting and mixing with too many people.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), the panel of experts that advises the government, called for another lockdown. And the government, reluctantly and after a two-week delay, agreed. So we are back in lockdown again.
The problem is we have done this before in March and yet here we are again. If this second lockdown does not provide a longer-term solution, what is the point?
More people are now wondering if it is futile. Are we going to be in and out of lockdowns for the foreseeable future?
We are not the only country in Europe to be going through this now as the second wave of the virus gets going across the continent. But we are the only country in Europe to have reacted with such severe restrictions.
The lockdown this time is actually more nuanced than the first time, but even so, it is going to play hell with businesses and jobs here. Many businesses just about survived the first lockdown -- particularly in the hospitality sector -- but this may be the nail in the coffin for many of them. Economists are warning that well over 100,000 jobs are at risk and many will be lost permanently.
Whether it is all worth it is now being questioned by people, even as they reluctantly try to obey the restrictions of this second lockdown. Adding to the sense of futility is the frustration and exhaustion, with five long weeks of the shutdown still ahead of us.
Several weeks ago the government announced its Living With COVID plan for the country, outlining five levels of restrictions that would match different levels of infection and case numbers. We had been on Level Two and then Level Three before we jumped to Level Five (full lockdown) at midnight on Wednesday of last week.
But more people are now saying that instead of Living With COVID the plan should be called Destroying the Economy With COVID. And the frustration is increased by the belief that it may not work for very long anyway.
The lack of confidence was increased in the past few days when it emerged that our contact tracing system had been overwhelmed by the recent spike in cases. To get over this, more than 2,000 people who had tested positive were told to inform their own close contacts and advise them to get tested. This caused a minor outcry here, but the same thing happened in the U.K. recently when they were hit by a huge jump in the number of cases.
One thing that will help here is the introduction of penalties -- fines or jail time -- for those who refuse to wear masks where they are required or are caught outside their three-mile limit without a good reason. We're a bit late with this but better late than never.
The government is saying that the penalties will only be imposed if someone ignores warnings and refuses to follow the rules. That makes sense because success is all about getting community buy-in for the lockdown, but the threat of a fine or prison will make the looney refuseniks think twice.
Some aspects of our new lockdown don't make much sense. Not just golf clubhouses but all golf courses are now closed, for example, even though there is ample room out there on the fairways to maintain social distance between a few friends playing around.
Yet at the same time, inter-county GAA matches are continuing even though it involves 30 guys banging into each other as they chase a ball around a pitch. And this follows some local GAA clubs being shamed for partying after winning games, resulting in virus spread.
It's not just sport, of course. There are many other areas of the lockdown that appear contradictory, but in fairness to the health experts, it's very difficult to devise a simple yet effective set of rules that covers everything.
The good news in the last few days is that we are already seeing signs of a leveling off in case numbers. It's too early to say whether this is just a temporary dip or the lockdown starting to work. But it gives some encouragement to people to keep going, which is badly needed right now.
Despite all the uncertainty here about the second lockdown and the unconvincing performance of our politicians in handling the virus over the last six months, there is a difference on this side of the Atlantic. There is no piling on to our leaders and blaming them for everything.
People here understand that it's what they do that really matters, like wearing masks, sanitizing, keeping a social distance, etc. Our leaders don't spread the virus, nor does Trump (or not much!)
But from this perspective, it looks like he is getting the entire blame in the U.S. and he's likely to pay the price by losing the election. That may not be fair, but given his behavior he only has himself to blame.