July 31, 2021
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: This isn’t a reopening policy, it’s a shambles

For fifteen months I have supported the Government’s regime of Covid restrictions. But enough is enough.

The latest pronouncement on indoor eating and drinking isn’t a policy, it’s a shambles. The damage it will do goes far beyond pubs and restaurants.

It has killed the mood of optimism that was growing in step with the vaccination rollout. It has quenched the hope that was kindled by the gradual re-opening of society.

It has destroyed faith in the judgment of senior ministers and will probably cost Fine Gael the Dublin Bay South by-election

For fifteen months I have accepted the wisdom of Nphet. They are medical experts, after all. Yes, they have been cautious. but I approved of caution, even an abundance of caution. But enough is enough.

It does not take medical expertise to see the flaw in their latest advice. It is based on a ‘worst case’ model that is so unlikely as to be almost impossible. It predicts a far higher rate of Covid infection, hospitalisation and death than arose last summer when pubs serving food were allowed to open.

Since then a large section of the population has been vaccinated and the success of the vaccine is reflected in the daily Covid figures. The infection rate is lower than it has been since September last year and, more importantly, Covid numbers in hospitals are as low as they have been since the start of the pandemic. Numbers in ICU are proportionately down.

Nphet’s ‘worst case’ forecast predicts a possible 700,000 new Covid cases between July and the end of September and 2,170 deaths.

That’s an infection rate of more than 8,000 a day. Even last January, at the height of the pandemic, that figure was not reached. Last September, after pubs had been opened for indoor dining, the daily figure was around 350. It rose above 1,000 in October and dipped back below 300 in early December.

At no time did it reach 8,000 and there was then no vaccination programme to help matters.
In December, when infection figures were similar to those now being recorded, there were more than 200 Covid cases in hospital; today the figure is around 40. That’s the difference the vaccine makes.

In England, where the Delta variant has been spreading fast, the infection rate is as high as it was in January. On January 30, when the vaccination level was low, England recorded 1,200 Covid deaths. On Monday this week it recorded three.

The value of the vaccine seems to have been ignored by Nphet in its ‘worst case’ profile. And maybe that’s OK for a ‘worst case’, but the figures it produces are of no practical relevance.

There’s a very large comet heading towards the sun at the moment. The ‘worst case’ for us would be that it suddenly changes course and smashes into Dublin, wiping out half the country. There is not the slightest likelihood that this will happen, but it is not entirely impossible. Should we prepare for Armageddon just in case?

The opening of pubs and restaurants is not, in itself, a matter of great importance. Well, it is if you own or work in one, but after all this time without them, the country can wait another few  weeks.

But it’s like waiting for Godot. The Government has not set a date for re-opening, suggesting instead this ill-considered idea of vaccine passports as a ticket of entry. Passports that do not yet exist , to be issued by whom we do not know, under rules that have not been determined, and scrutinised by staff who have not been employed.
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar says the alternative is waiting for herd immunity. When might that arrive? What does it even mean?

Mr Varadkar says the Government needs “a few weeks” to sort things out. This Government was formed on June 27 last year. It has had 52 weeks to sort it out.

Still, I live in hope. Sorting out Nphet would be a good start. Or at least getting a second opinion.

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