Donnelly: We might be close to lockdown 2.0

Great news for anti-social people-haters like me who like to find any excuse to avoid human company. But the rest of you must be wondering what on earth he’s thinking:

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has warned the State is at a “tipping point”, and that the coronavirus pandemic is “close to having us lock down the country again”.

Speaking at the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 on Wednesday, Mr Donnelly said that if public health advice is followed, schools and businesses can remain open and the virus can be suppressed.

However, he said: “the reality is we are dealing with a virus that is close to having us lock down the country again. The public health advice is that we are at a tipping point and we are doing everything we can to suppress this virus to stop a second lockdown”.

He said that if a second lockdown were to happen, healthcare services will be “severely curtailed”. Currently, the strategy is to use “targeted measures to suppress the virus while keeping as much of our society and our economy open as possible”. He argued that the experiences of Kildare, Laois, and Offaly showed that suppressing the virus through this strategy was possible.

There are, roughly speaking, two possibilities: The minister is deliberately bluffing, or he’s a fool. Take your pick.

Lockdown, remember, was supposed to ease the pressure on our healthcare system, which was at risk of being over-loaded with coronavirus cases. At the beginning of the outbreak, back in the spring, there was even talk of building special coronavirus isolation units in Army Barracks, and the likes, because of a fear that the hospitals would be overloaded.

But that did not, thankfully, prove necessary. And our health system today is nowhere near its capacity, let alone at risk of being overloaded. As of yesterday, in fact, there are the sum total of five people in intensive care:

So, for the moment, at least, it’s hard to see how anyone can make an argument that the health system is at risk of being overloaded.

So that evidence, at least, points to the “fool” conclusion.

But that’s probably not it. It is much more likely that it’s a calculated bluff – to warn the naughty children that if they don’t behave themselves, there will be consequences. Sort of a “don’t abuse your liberties or we will have to take them away” message.

It’s not inconceivable, of course, that the country will fall victim to a devastating “second wave” of the virus this winter – in fact some scientists fear that things will get a lot worse as temperatures fall and people congregate more indoors – but it’s laughable to suggest that we are anywhere near that point yet.

And in any case, how can the Government be speculating in public about a second lockdown on the same day that it is re-opening schools across the country, which it says itself will lead to more cases? If the case numbers are so bad that you might have to lock the country down to protect the health service, why would you pursue a policy that you yourself say will lead to more cases?

The objective here, simply, is to keep people afraid, in the hope that fear will keep them more than 2 metres apart from their neighbours, and what not.

But politically, this is beginning to turn into a disaster. People are not blind – they can see the contradictions in Government policy. And the less that it makes sense, the less inclined they will be to take it seriously.

Donnelly risks becoming the minister who cried wolf, which would be a disaster for us all.

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