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Ignore the bedwetters: There’s no case for bringing back masks

What can one say? It’s groundhog day all over again.

As Ireland’s Covid cases have begun to increase, we are once again experiencing calls for a return of various Covid restrictions – just weeks after lifting them initially.

Tell me if you’re starting to get deja vu.

Now to be sure, cases are, in fact, surging. That’s certainly what the data shows. But does this warrant locking down?

As has been well established by now, not everyone who gets Covid is going to become seriously ill. The real figures we have to worry about are hospital and ICU numbers. And those tell a different story altogether.

While Covid cases have, indeed, shot through the roof, Covid ICU admissions have barely increased at all and are still far below winter levels.

While positive Covid cases in hospital are up (see below), we have no idea how many of these people are in hospital for other conditions but happen to have Covid. That data isn’t available to us.

We have reason to be dubious of this: in January, when cases were surging, a review was done of nine Irish hospitals which found that the vast majority of patients in hospital with Covid-19 had no viral symptoms and did not need supplemental oxygen.

In other words, the fact that they had Covid-19 in their system was an incidental fact rather than the thing that hospitalised them.

Therefore it’s at least plausible to speculate that maybe the new BA2 variant, which we know is very contagious, could simply be infecting more people and so statistically people going into hospital are likely to have it even if they aren’t sick. This would certainly make sense given the very marginal increase of cases in ICU.

That’s not to say we know for sure that this is still the case. But the current data available to us is too crude and does not provide enough information to make that claim one way or the other.

We’ve heard renewed calls to bring back measures such as mandatory mask wearing. But would re-introducing Covid restrictions help?

According to Oxford, Ireland has some of the lightest Covid-19 restrictions in the world.

Yet EU countries on the list with far stricter restrictions than ourselves, such as Germany, Italy and Spain are also experiencing surging cases.

From this it’s reasonable to infer that even if we had more stringent Covid restrictions like our European neighbours, we’d largely still be in the same or a similar boat.

Moreover, many of the country’s most vigorous supporters of restrictions have stated the view that new measures aren’t warranted – names including Professor Luke O’Neill, Professor Sam McConkey, and CMO Dr. Tony Holohan. If there was even half a reason to implement restrictions, you can be sure individuals like this would be likely to advise as much.

Ultimately, there is simply no reason to assume that restrictions are warranted or that they would help at all. With the overwhelming majority of people vaccinated and many people boosted, we simply cannot lose the plot every time we see a slight uptick in numbers.

Living with the virus means just that – getting on with it. And that’s exactly what we should do.

 

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