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NPHET: You’ll never guess what we want for Christmas

If you are reading this, and happen to be close enough to Tony Holohan to regularly exchange gifts with him at Christmastime, here’s a free tip: This year, get him what he has always wanted – a t-shirt with “Shut it Down, lads” written across the front in big black lettering:

The State’s public health team, Nphet, is expected to meet on Thursday and Government sources said they expect that Nphet will ask for a “tightening” of restrictions ahead of the Christmas period.

A source said areas which could be explored by the team include hospitality closing times, regulations around home visits and travel restrictions, although the Government has not been given any advance notice of Thursday’s agenda. There is also an expectation the team will appeal to the public to limit their social contacts as the booster campaign continues.

Let us review the situation as it stands: Hospitalisations and ICU admissions are at six-week lows. Somewhere around 95% of the public have been vaccinated, and booster vaccine centres are overwhelmed by people eagerly queuing up to get their jabs. The state is on course to come in dramatically under NPHET’s most optimistic projection for Covid case numbers in December.

None of that, apparently, matters. Tony and his team have decided that Christmas just isn’t worth the risk – shut it down, lads.

The “threat”, such as it is, comes from the Omicron Variant, a highly transmissible strain of Covid 19 which, at the time of writing, has been listed as the cause of one death – one – globally.

If you were merely to judge the epidemiological situation on the present data, there is no case whatever for more restrictions. Which is why it is important to remember that NPHET are clearly and unambiguously refusing to judge the situation on the present data. These are not proposed restrictions in response to a crisis. They are proposed restrictions in response to something that may, or may not, happen.

In effect, what we are seeing in 2021 is Government and NPHET trying to implement the Christmas policy that they regret not having implemented in 2020. They believe – rightly or wrongly – that they got it wrong last year, and by Jove, they are not going to do that again.

Of course, they seem entirely unwilling to consider that the situation has changed.

In 2020, nobody was vaccinated. In 2021, almost everybody is. The only real justification for restrictions, therefore, is an official belief that the vaccine is ineffective to such a degree that this year requires more restrictions than last year.

This is an objectively astonishing position. It also represents a much deeper crisis than covid itself.

There is, after all, now no agreed set of circumstances in which all covid restrictions can be lifted. If the epidemiological situation on a given day does not matter, and only what might happen next week matters, then the restrictions, logically, can never be entirely abandoned. Even if we have six days with no cases at all, it can always be reasonably said that lifting restrictions might encourage widespread socialisation, and a sudden covid spike. If the objective of public policy is, as it now appears to be, to prevent any and all covid spikes, then the restrictions must remain in place indefinitely.

So what incentive remains to comply with those restrictions? For me, the answer is no incentive at all.

I have been vaccinated three times. If it remains too dangerous for me to see my family this Christmas, or live a normal life, then this – all of it – has been a complete and total waste of time. I will not be the only one arriving at this calculation.

The basic fact of the matter is this: If you end up with more restrictions a year after your vaccine programme than you had before it started, then in respect of a key public policy goal of the vaccine programme (ending the need for restrictions) that programme has completely failed. NPHET has failed. Government has failed.

For some reason, it remains very controversial to say this in public, because of the fear of being labelled anti-vax. Or far right. Or whatever. But the truth is blindingly obvious even to those who refuse to repeat it in polite company: The state’s covid response has been a miserable failure in 2021, and nobody – nobody – has been more responsible than that than the person responsible for that strategy, Dr. Holohan.

He should not be allowed to lock us all up again to cover for his own failures.

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