Varadkar’s Virus Fight Faces Test From Brexit Border Success
A hard border in Ireland might not have been such a bad idea after all. At least, when it comes to halting the spread of the coronavirus.
In the south of the island, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday ordered the country into partial lock down, shutting schools, colleges and daycare, banning mass gatherings and telling people to stay apart.
In the north, part of the U.K., schools will remain open for now, First Minister Arlene Foster said on Friday, though will close at some unspecified point in the future. Elsewhere in the region, life goes on relatively normally, with few restrictions for now.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has staked considerable political capital on adopting what he calls a “science-based” approach to the virus, arguing that some of the dramatic measures implemented in countries like China and Italy aren’t relevant to the U.K. Medical experts have called on the government to ramp up its response, which has mainly focused on telling people to wash their hands regularly.
If he’s wrong, and the virus spreads rapidly and widely in regions like Northern Ireland, the open border potentially leaves the south more vulnerable. Some 70 cases have been confirmed in the south before the lockdown, with 20 in the north.
During the tortuous Brexit negotiations, Varadkar successfully fought to keep the border free of checkpoints. Every day, thousands cross the frontier, which meanders through the countryside for some 310 miles (500 kilometers), dividing rivers, fields and even some houses, to shop, work and attend schools.
It may be that Varadkar’s greatest political achievement could help undermine his biggest fight -- to control the spread of the coronavirus.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.