Voice of Real Australia: From Ireland with love

My Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter was written by Mount Isa-based Derek Barry.

Waterford: A windy fjord indeed. Photo: Shutterstock

Waterford: A windy fjord indeed. Photo: Shutterstock

Australian passport lists the town of my birth though not the country.

I was born in a place called Waterford, though not the suburb of Perth by that name or the place near Logan in Queensland.

No, my Waterford is the Irish one, the thousand-year-old city in the south-east of the country.

It lacks the lyrical quality of other Irish place like Killarney or Kilkenny or Tipperary, but like Dublin and Limerick it was one of many Irish ports founded by the Vikings who saw similarities between the great entrance of Waterford Harbour and the fjords of their own coastline.

About 20km upstream they founded a port and gave it an old Norse name Vedrafjordr (later anglicised to Waterford) meaning windy fjord.

As a Viking port it was immediately part of a global trade network. Archeologists there have found a Kufic dirham (a silver Arab coin) and a fragment of a Hiberno-Scandinavian arm-ring both from the 9th century.

Throughout the centuries the Irish have travelled the world, including here in North West Queensland where one fellow Irishman has been president of a local society for an astonishingly 46 years.

Reginald's Tower is a thousand year Viking fortress commanding the river entrance to Waterford, Ireland.

Reginald's Tower is a thousand year Viking fortress commanding the river entrance to Waterford, Ireland.

I was thinking of the natural global outlook of Irish people the other day when I heard Waterford and every other large town in Ireland had cancelled their St Patrick's Day parades for today (March 17) due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

I was saddened to hear this though I agree with the reasoning.

In this era of easy global contact, we need to keep our distance from everyone in the coming months.

The reason why was explained to me by Dr Emma Gillmore, a Cloncurry GP who says we urgently need to slow the rate of COVID-19 infections.

COVID-19 infections are following an exponential curve, doubling so far in Queensland every four days.

Using the power of multiples 2 becomes a thousand in nine iterations (roughly 36 days according to current infections), and a thousand becomes a million in another nine days (roughly 72 days from the start of the cycle).

Dr Gillmore says we urgently need to "flatten the curve" to slow the rate of cases occurring at any one time so health facilities can cope with the load.

"Say, one in a thousand people need intensive care, that is fine for our hospital system if there are just 100 people with the disease they can accommodate 1 extra person in ICU but if there are 10,000 cases - that is 100 extra ICU beds of which we do not have," Dr Gillmore said.

Dr Gillmore said survival rates would go down if a massive tidal wave of people get infected at the same time as we just simply cant provide the best level of care to everyone at the exact same time.

"This is an important time to be reminded of the power of hand hygiene and that common sense prevails in terms of large crowd exposure," she said.

"Flattening the curve" is now a textbook public health response to epidemics.

Once a virus can no longer be contained, the goal is to slow its spread.

Exponential growth in infections leaves health care systems struggling to handle the surge.

But with fewer people sick at at the time services aren't overwhelmed and deaths diminish buying time to treat the flood of patients as researchers develop vaccines and antiviral therapies.

And hopefully these therapies will arrive in time to make 2020 St Patrick's Day parades across the world ones to remember.

As for intermediate therapies, I can only recommend that today you raise a glass of Guinness to your friends and family, who are hopefully at least one metre away, and wish us all good luck on the journey that lies ahead.

Derek Barry

Editor, North West Star

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