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Did Holohan mislead the nation on incidental admissions?

Here is Tony Holohan, the Chief Medical Officer, speaking about hospital figures for Covid 19 on December 30th, last, just 18 days ago:

“Over 90% are there for the management of Covid 19. Less than 5% are there for incidental reasons”.

That is a very clear, and unambiguous statement. It is also one that is patently, and objectively, false. At least it is today, 18 days later. Here is what the Infectious Diseases Society of Ireland said on Friday:

According to the IDSI, only 42% of covid patients have symptoms at all, at least at presentation. That report is dated January 13th – exactly two weeks after the Chief Medical Officer said that 90% of patients were in hospital for the management of covid 19.

And the IDSI report is not the only evidence that what Holohan said was wrong. The day before January 13th, NPHET gave a press conference in which they reported that “incidental admissions” were… 30%:

So according to Dr. Holohan, incidental admissions were 5% on December 30th, but rose to 30% in just two weeks, and according to the IDSI, only four in ten patients have any symptoms at all.

The data, to put it mildly, does not add up. And it is certainly true that what Dr. Holohan said on December 30th appears to have been grossly misleading, at the very least, about the situation that emerged in the hospitals in the days following his remarks.

But there is also no logical reason to suppose that he was being deliberately dishonest. There is nothing, particularly, that he would stand to gain from being dishonest. So what is the explanation?

It strains credulity to believe that the hospital situation changed so markedly in just two weeks. The total number of patients have risen, but for Dr. Holohan to be right, then basically every additional admission in that period would have had to be asymptomatic for his December 30th statement to be correct.

This does matter: There is perhaps nobody in Ireland who shapes public opinion more than the good Doctor. And it is worth noting that he has not – so far as this author can see – updated or recanted his December 30th remarks. NPHET have, and the ISID have, but Holohan has not, so far as I can see.

It is, indeed possible that there was a massive surge in hospital figures for asymptomatic covid cases in the days after Holohan spoke out: Perhaps, for example, older people who test positive are routinely being moved from nursing homes to hospitals for observation. Or perhaps January is a bad time for hospital admissions more generally. The latter point, at least, is true most years.

But it remains objectively remarkable that the Chief Medical Officer could have made the statement he did on December 30th, only for it to be proved so wrong just two weeks later. And it is a point on which he really should be pressed. I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, in the absence of clarification. But a growing number of people in the population will not be.

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