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Where is the inquiry into the “quite incredible” rise in excess deaths?

An alarming rise in excess deaths is being recorded in many countries, and Ireland is seeing an above average increase.  

This week, Peadar Tóibín of Aontú noted that CSO figures recorded deaths in Ireland in quarter 2 of this year as having increased by a shocking 39.2% on the same time last year.

“The CSO released figures very recently that show that in quarter two there was a 39.2pc increase in deaths compared with the same time last year,” he said. “This is an incredibly high mortality rate.”

The Meath West TD said he had issued parliamentary questions “to try to ascertain what’s going on.”

He’s right to be alarmed at the significant rise in the number of people dying, and the CSO figures showed only a tiny fraction of those deaths were Covid-related, with most deaths being caused by cancer and circulatory disease.

What’s also almost incredible is that a handful of TDs like Tóibín need to use the parliamentary questions mechanism and freedom of information requests to get any information about what is going on at all.

The government and most of the opposition seem entirely disinterested in an inquiry which would openly and honestly examine the handling of the Covid crisis.

Many commentators and experts believe the surge we’re seeing in recent months in excess deaths is because people were unable or afraid to access healthcare for such a long period.

Some would posit that the surge in deaths is the cost now being borne of over-focusing on Covid-19 for almost two years as if it was the only threat to health and wellbeing, especially when the lockdowns continued long after it was obvious that their extent might be causing more harm than good.

Yet now, the same state which forced everyone to stay at home – even to the point of keeping people from saying goodbye to dying parents and loved ones – now seem strangely incurious as to what mistakes they might have made during Covid when they gave themselves such sweeping powers.

During the lockdown there was a consistent refusal across the political and media establishment to give serious consideration to the possibly terrifying consequences of keeping the country closed down for an absurdly long time. When some few TDs – mostly Independents or Aontú – tried to ask for a risk or cost-benefit analysis they were deflected, even told to ‘cop on’.

So, when Independent TD Mattie McGrath sought an independent investigation more than a year ago, he said it should “include a cost-benefit analysis” looking at, amongst other things, “delayed diagnoses and missed diagnoses, the effects on mental health and other health-related services, together with the economic and community impact versus the benefits derived from the longest-ever lockdown in Ireland”.

But Minister Stephen Donnelly just waffled in response, even when McGrath pointed out that an inquiry should also examine why, at that time, some 40% of all the Covid deaths in Ireland had occurred in nursing homes.

There has been no detailed or forensic examination as to what went wrong in the nursing homes, but even now, as excess morality climb, it seems as if TDs are more than happy to simply ignore what led to these additional deaths.

Its as if most of the TDs in the Dáil switched their attention overnight to one of a number of new crises: energy or the Ukraine or housing.

In fact, Micheál Martin has ruled out questioning any of the experts whose advice was followed during the Covid lockdown. And the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is dragging his heels on the investigation thus far.

The government is effectively being given cover by the media, who seem to be mostly turning a blind eye to calls for a full inquiry-  and their reporting on the tsunami of negative health outcomes that is now either happening or expected can often be misleading.

Take for example, how most of the media reported on the “frightening wave of cancer deaths” that experts are warning Ireland should now expect. 

You hear that this is happening because of the pandemic – just as its reported that 10% fewer cancers were caught because of the pandemic.

But that’s not true. Covid didn’t cause this wave of cancer deaths, and isn’t driving the excess deaths we’re seeing now. What’s most likely is that lockdown is to blame.

And while the Covid virus isn’t answerable to anyone, those who insisted that the lockdowns needed to be so severe and sustained that it led to operations being cancelled and diagnoses being missed should now be held to account. No-one is looking for a witch-hunt, but we risk making these same mistakes again without a thorough and transparent examination of the facts.

Other countries are at least looking at the numbers and agreeing to holding investigations. The UK Covid-19 inquiry, chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett, will begin public hearings next year examining the state’s response to the pandemic, though some MPs are concerned that critical voices may be excluded. 

Ahead of that, a co-authored technical report by Sir Chris Whitty and  Sir Patrick Vallance, (the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and Chief Scientific Adviser respectively for England) said that Britain will face a “prolonged period” of excess deaths because of cancelled medical procedures and fears of attending appointments during the Covid crisis. 

They said that there was a “risk that health-seeking behaviours were adjusted to such a degree that there was significant unmet need, with resulting impacts on mortality and morbidity.”

The daily barrage of adverts and media notices – often concentrating on the more frightening-sounding numbers of cases rather than hospitalisations or deaths – terrified many people, especially those who were older. They missed appointments, or were afraid to seek medical help – or had medical examinations cancelled on them – and are now paying a terrible price.

The British report also said “there will also be further impacts [from lockdowns] that were not measured or have not yet been fully realised.”

School closures needed to be weighed up against “lasting effects on children’s education, developmental and life chances”, they noted.

Why are we not having an in-depth look into the consequences of the lengthy and severe Covid lockdowns in Ireland? What is the government afraid of? Having to answer questions? Perhaps being made to acknowledge that they might have made mistakes? If so, that would be an unacceptable prioritisation of their own political safety above the wellbeing of the citizens.

In Australia, the country’s main actuarial body is calling on the government there to urgently investigate the “incredibly high” 13% excess death rate in 2022, 

A spokeswoman for the  Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data by the Actuaries Institute said that “mortality doesn’t normally vary by more than 1 to 2 per cent, so 13 per cent is way higher than normal levels.”

Perhaps we need medical and economic experts to come together in this country to insist on a Covid-19 lockdown inquiry. At the moment, the government is finding it all too easy to ignore the TDs and concerned citizens who are trying to draw attention to the possibly deadly consequences of the decisions that were made since March 2020.

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