Credit: Capture RTE

Bad news from NPHET: We are at a “dangerous point”

Hairdressers will be closed until May, the Taoiseach said yesterday, meaning that those of us who survive lockdown will emerge, eventually, into the sunshine, with hair and beards flowing like the cavemen of yore. But that’s only if we survive what NPHET says is the latest “dangerous moment” of the never-ending pandemic:

Ireland could be “in real trouble” if a recent rise in Covid-19 cases continues, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has warned.

After two months of declining numbers progress appears to have stalled, and the reproduction number may now be close to 1, Nphet’s modelling expert Prof Philip Nolan said on Thursday night as 592 cases and 10 deaths were reported.

He said there was “a little bit of concern this may be the beginning of something”.

“We are sailing very close to the wind. A gust of wind in the wrong direction and we’re in real trouble.”

It might sound absurd for NPHET to be worried about 592 cases, but that is, to be fair to them, something of a function of recency bias. We’re all so used now to the heady days of January, and the days of six or seven thousand cases per day, that we instinctively think of 592 as a piddling, insignificant number of cases compared to what we were at in the early days of this lockdown.

But actually, it’s a relatively high number of cases compared to say, early December. Throw your mind back to December 17th, for example, and you’ll find that Ireland had just 484 cases that day. Two weeks later, that had more than doubled to more than a thousand daily cases. And two weeks after that, four thousand cases a day. To be completely fair to NPHET, that’s the thing with Covid: Cases can explode, and have exploded in the recent past, relatively quickly.

It’s also fair to say that they probably have reason to be concerned: Lockdown fatigue has well and truly set in in the population, even in those parts of the population that have no principled objection to lockdown to begin with. People are moving about more, secondary students are back in school, and people feel safer. When people feel safer, they become less conscious of the risk of infectious diseases, and, well, the whole shebang could start all over again. So, let’s not pile onto NPHET for doing their job, which is, after all, to raise the alarm about the number of cases.

All that said, though, it’s important to say that there is no excuse – none, whatever – for Ireland to be “in real trouble” over a year into the Coronavirus pandemic. Few other countries, worldwide, can say the same. The rest of the world – at least, the western world – is vaccinating at good pace, reducing restrictions, and opening up. Ireland is hunkering down and closing hairdressers until May. That’s not NPHET’s fault: It’s the fault of Government for leaving the country in a position where lockdown is the only virus suppression tool at our fingertips.

Here’s what’s happening in Maryland, for example – a very densely populated state that includes the City of Baltimore, and the sprawling suburbs of Washington D.C.:

Across Maryland on Wednesday, mayors, county executives, business owners and public health officials were parsing Gov. Larry Hogan’s surprise Tuesday announcement that he was loosening statewide Covid restrictions.

The order allows bars, restaurants, churches and gyms to open back up to full capacity starting Friday evening, though with certain social distancing regulations still in place. It also allows larger venues like banquet halls, theaters and sports stadiums to open to the public at 50 percent of capacity. The statewide mask mandate remains in effect.

“With the pace of vaccinations rapidly rising and our health metrics steadily improving, the lifting of these restrictions is a prudent, positive step in the right direction and an important part of our economic recovery,” Mr. Hogan said. He was joined at his announcement by Dr. Robert R. Redfield, a former director the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who is now a senior adviser to the governor.

When you look at the rest of the world, and then look back at Ireland, what you see is a country that is now a total outlier in terms of the length and severity of our restrictions. This fact never makes the RTE news, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

Government are just hoping that you don’t notice. Because this is their failure.

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