Photo credit: Left- Paul Murphy, Right - Houses of the Oireachtas

FACT CHECK: Paul Murphy spreads uncorrected misinformation on covid variants

For a media class that is so utterly consumed and terrified of the spread of so-called “misinformation,” Irish journalists are remarkably relaxed when a TD like Paul Murphy makes demonstrably false statements about covid-19 variants.

Speaking on Newstalk’s Lunchtime Live this week, the People Before Profit TD expressed his belief that because of the rise of the Delta variant in the UK, Ireland should implement Mandatory Hotel Quarantine with Britain to prevent the variants’ spread here.

“This is bad news,” said Murphy.

“The Delta variant is now here. We know we have 126 confirmed cases, and probably there are more – quite a few more – that haven’t been confirmed. And if the Delta variant is to become dominant, like it is very much so in Britain, well then we have a very serious problem on our hands. It’s more transmissible, it’s more dangerous.”

While it certainly seems to be true that the Delta variant is more transmissible than some other variants, to say it’s “more dangerous” is simply not borne out by the data.

To put this into perspective, around January, during the infamous second wave, Britain was experiencing an average of 3,812 new hospital admissions every day. Now, with Delta variant cases surging, there are around 120 hospitalisations a day.

Moreover, on the 11th of June, last Friday, there were 42,323 confirmed Delta variant cases in the UK, and only 42 deaths total. This means that 0.09% of those who contracted the Delta variant in Britain have died.

Comparatively, the death rate for the “Alpha” variant, a.k.a. the B117 or the UK variant, is 0.4% according to a study by the British Medical Journal – significantly higher.

By any metric, the Delta variant is not more dangerous than other variants we’ve seen in the past.

However, Murphy’s statement on Newstalk went totally unchallenged, with zero pushback or scrutiny whatsoever.

To be overly generous and give him the benefit of the doubt, it is conceivable that there is a lag in recording deaths, and that the Indian variant is so new that we don’t yet know the full extent of its mortality – sure, that’s a possibility.

But the most you could say then is “We don’t know for sure how dangerous it is yet.” To categorically say, as Murphy did, “It is more dangerous” is totally disingenuous, and does not appear to be factually correct based on the information currently available to us. I’d go so far as to say it’s tantamount to scaremongering.

He went on to say that with 1,000 cases of the Delta variant, Ireland would have to lockdown again and reverse its re-opening.

“If we don’t do it, we may end up with a crisis situation in a month with 1000 cases of Delta running wild and it becoming dominant, and we may have to reverse course with the re-opening that people obviously want to see,” he said.

“It’s almost too late, I called for this a month ago.”

Again – hospitalisations and deaths in the UK absolutely do not warrant such an extreme reaction by any reading of the data.

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