Credit to TDs for extracting this fairly revealing statement from Ireland’s benevolent dictator. But let us face facts: When Holohan says “September or beyond”, he means “or beyond”:
NPHET would have recommended keeping pubs and restaurants closed for indoor dining until the “end of September or beyond” had they not proposed a vaccine pass, the Chief Medical Officer has told Opposition TDs.
Dr Tony Holohan told a briefing on Wednesday the Delta wave “is coming, we know it’s coming” and that it will not be over within four weeks.
He said without the recommendation to open indoor hospitality for vaccinated people through a vaccine pass system the Government is now seeking to devise avoids keeping that sector closed for “a significant number of months”
Defending the Nphet modelling and projections, Dr Holohan said Scotland had modelled similarly pessimistic scenarios which are “every bit as bad” as the scenarios he had outlined.
He said the five-day average of cases in Scotland was now 3,000 per day when it was less than 200 cases per day six weeks ago.
The big difference between Scotland and Ireland, of course, is that you can, presently, go to a pub or a restaurant in Scotland. Holohan’s argument seems to be that on the current trajectory, Scotland and the wider UK will have to do a reverse ferret and join his crusade to shutter the drinking holes and eateries of Great Britain, which will then allow RTE and others in the media to acclaim his foresight and leadership once more.
The problem, of course, with that position is simple: Even if, as Holohan postulates, Scotland and the UK end up having to follow suit, their people have thus far been able to enjoy six weeks of relative freedom, and seem set to enjoy, at minimum, weeks more.
What’s more, there simply is no evidence, at least at this stage, that the UK Government is prepared to move in Holohan’s direction even if, as he claims, cases surge to record levels in the coming weeks. Consider this from Boris Johnson:
Boris Johnson has told Cabinet he is “increasingly confident” that Britain can open up fully on July 19 – and that Britons will then learn to “live with” the Covid-19 virus.
In a sign of his rising belief that mass vaccination is successfully making it safe to ease restrictions for good, the Prime Minister told colleagues at No 10 that the latest data was looking good.
Although cases were “continuing to rise”, the number of hospitalisations and deaths were rising more slowly.
This is not simply a difference of opinion over the science. It is an entire and complete difference of philosophy. The UK Government has determined that it will deal with the Delta variant by relying on its vaccine strategy and the fact that the death rate from the variant is appreciably lower than from the parent virus. Holohan, by contrast, is permanently stuck in February 2020. If he is expecting the Governments of Europe to acclaim him as some sort of visionary and follow suit, then there is much reason to expect him to be disappointed.
None of that, of course, has any bearing on his limitless power here at home. And therein lies the problem, because it is clear from his statement above that it is futile to expect, at any time this year, him to give the go-ahead for a generalised re-opening. The massive Delta wave, upon which he has now staked his reputation, and the reputation of NPHET, will, and must always be, just around the corner.
And indeed, there are no political consequences for when he does get it wrong. He got it badly wrong, readers might recall, some weeks ago, when he all but declared that the crowds in Dublin would cause a new surge in cases. That statement, delivered via tweet, spurred somebody to order the Gardai onto the streets to baton charge people enjoying a night out. Though the war on outdoor drinking was, in the end, decisively lost by the state, the predicted consequence – a surge in cases – did not arrive. Holohan, having started that war, escaped its consequences entirely.
It is, and should be clear by now that Holohan, and his team, have a completely different attitude to risk and freedom to everybody else on the continent. It is not that they have different science at their disposal. It is that they, unlike their counterparts in every other country, lack any and all respect for the right of people to live normal lives during the summer. And we have politicians in Ireland, who, unlike in any other country, are scared of their public health advisors.