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Rumbling away in the foreground January 12, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Mentioned yesterday the manner in which it appears a narrative is being constructed to let the government off the hook about the hugely accelerating numbers of cases and mortalities from Covid-19 in December and January by suggesting that complaints about decisions taken are being made in hindsight and that no-one predicted that numbers would go up so sharply. That last is correct – but, there were multiple warnings both from NPHET and others that numbers would go up and very severely. The excuse that matters are much worse rather than worse is no excuse at all.

Yesterday came this – as noted by CL in comments:

Ireland now has the highest daily number of new confirmed Covid-19 cases in the world for every million people, according to figures published by the Our World in Data organisation. Ireland’s seven day rolling average is 1,394 cases per million – ahead of the UK on 810, Portugal on 735 and the USA on 653.The research website is linked to Oxford University.

The Guardian noted this in a piece last night.

Ireland emerged from a six-week lockdown in early December with the European Union’s lowest coronavirus infection rate. It eased restrictions in belief it could contain a rise in the virus over Christmas unlike, say, Germany and the UK, countries that had more than four times the level of infection. Then all hell broke loose.

And:

From mid-December, the virus started ripping across Ireland, gaining a speed unimagined in the worst-case scenarios and forming an almost vertical line that rushed up, up and up to give Ireland, on Monday, the world’s highest rate of Covid-19 infection.

And one Irish analyst interviewed by the Guardian puts it this way:

…[he] blamed the government’s decision to relax restrictions in the run-up to Christmas and to delay taking action when infections began to rise as early as 10 December.

He said: “It was reckless. They disregarded the evidence. Even [Boris] Johnson eventually U-turned and cancelled Christmas in England but our crowd over here stuck their fingers in their ears. It was weak and sentimental government – ‘let’s all have Santa’ schmaltz.”

L’Estrange said sampling results suggested the situation was out of control before the England variant became widespread.

Unsurprisingly even before this unwelcome international attention both Taoiseach and Tánaiste were out yesterday defending the decision to lift restrictions.

Both Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar defended the Government’s decisions in separate radio interviews, with Mr Martin saying that it was “unfair” to suggest that the Government should be ashamed of their response to the pandemic while Mr Varadkar said that it was “too simplistic . . . to say that if one thing had been done differently, everything would be fine.”

And Varadkar went further:

Mr Varadkar said there was a “legitimate question” about whether the Government should have moved to level three at the start of December “If we . . . all knew the situation we’d be in now, would we have gone to Level 3 at all? Perhaps not. Perhaps we would have stayed at Level 5 for a while longer. Perhaps would have tried Level 4 for a few weeks, and reviewed the situation,” he told RTÉ’s Claire Byrne.

Except NPHET et al explicitly called for tighter restrictions. Not looser ones. There’s been a number of folk – they’ve featured regularly in a weekly Sunday post on this site – focusing on the reopening of hospitality and restaurants in particular in early December, but that’s not all that reopened as this excellent timeline in the Examiner undescores:

However, despite Nphet warnings, the Government pressed on with a multi-phase plan to reopen the economy and society from December 1. This included the reopening of hospitality from December 4 and the lifting of household and travel restrictions from December 18.

The Phoenix has had some excellent analysis on all this noting that:

At the beginning of December not only had schools become the third most frequent site of clusters but the Government again abandoned its own plan to have case figures on or below 100 ahead of any reopening. The result of that decision, against health advice and against the EY report that the Government commissioned, became apparent ahead of Christmas when hospitality had to be curtailed early and household visits were limited from December 26 rather than the planned date of January 6.

But more damningly it notes that from the Summer on there’d been an aversion to following public health advice in order to ‘reopen’ more quickly – indeed it notes that “As vaccine rollout begins it is worth recalling the thinking last Summer when Varadkar justified his actions with a warning that would it “reflect badly” if the country was seen to lag behind others”.

And so as it had been it continued. And:

So, from St Patrick’s day parade dithering all the way to this week’s scenes, the mantra that NPHET advise and the Government decide is best viewed as darkly comic. When each moment comes, instead of making decisions based on planning, the Government are making more plans. The virus certainly made a fool of everyone’s plans last year but given that Leo Varadkar has been fighting not Covid-19 but the results of his own decisions on a rolling basis since mid Summer, is it not more accurate to say that 2021 sees the Government continue to make a fool of itself?

It’s all those elements that contributed to a sense – conveyed indirectly by the government – that it was ‘safe’ to reopen.

Moreover:

This despite the grim warning of Nphet which said Ireland was in a “precarious” position. Dr Holohan said that there was “growing evidence” that indoor settings such as bars and restaurants contribute to viral spread, meaning that the Government must choose between opening the hospitality sector and household visits and should only allow religious services from December 21. He said: “The advice of Nphet is that we do not have the flexibility to reopen the hospitality sector if we are to ease the prohibition on household visits.” In ignoring this advice, the Government would lose its political cover, but gambled on numbers staying low and the public buying into the restrictions on a reasonable but limited basis. Neither happened…

Then:

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Nphet has kept the Government appraised of matters with a weekly letter. Sent on a Thursday, the letter outlines the latest epidemiological situation and makes suggestions on public health measures. There is usually one a week unless there are extenuating circumstances. In December, the team sent seven, with five coming in the final 14 days of the month. The letters paint a grim picture of a situation getting worse and worse.

And:

On December 17, one day before household visit and intercounty travel restrictions were to be lifted, Nphet said that it was “especially concerned at how rapidly case numbers have increased”, particularly noting that “the timing of the current cases is clearly related” to the opening of hospitality. It urged the Government to end the Christmas period on December 28 and close hospitality. Four days later, a letter urged a full Level 5 suite of measures be introduced and raised concerns about tracing and testing of household contacts

Interestingly yesterday the Taoiseach suggested that:

 the Government had not given “mixed messages” before Christmas and insisted that it had acted responsibly. “We accept our responsibility, but we have acted at all times in responding effectively to the waves that have emerged,” he said.

But the government had gone against public health advice. And the upshot?

On December 22, the Taoiseach confirmed that the country would enter a fresh period of Covid-19 restrictions from Christmas Eve. Pubs would be closed along with salons and barbers, with Micheál Martin saying the Government was acting “quickly and aggressively” in response to rising infection rates. A day later, Nphet would once again push for a full lockdown, with a letter saying that a “further significant deterioration” would “seriously impact” the ability of the State to protect public health. It said that only schools and some third-level facilities should remain open.

Remember, all this was just before Christmas. At this point without a coherent approach across the month and with brakes being slammed on the government had arguably lost credibility. Had the government been willing to forego ‘Christmas’ and to make it clear the dangers – at a minimum one has to think that the current numbers would have been significantly lower.

Small wonder there’s a scramble now to move on with talk about the new variant being the accelerant and so on. Problem is that citizens were sold what was effectively an untruth. Mentioned before how some transparency and honesty would do wonders in all this. Look no further than the Business Post for an article this weekend which gets to the heart of matters by Susan O’Keefe.

As she notes:

Let’s call a spade a spade. No more “good of the people” stuff. The pandemic is out of control in Ireland – and it doesn’t matter that it’s out of control in other countries too. All the beleaguered coalition government can achieve now is to try to keep people alive long enough to get them vaccinated. Nothing more, nothing less. At nearly 8,000 cases yesterday, and no sign of real let up, there is no argument. In short, the virus has won. It has proved over nine painful months that it is unbeatable by partial lockdown, circuit breaking, tiers or takeaways. It’s clear that only a severe stay-at-home, close-the-borders system can keep enough people safe, and that system would produce, as Yeats said, “no country for old men” – or any other kind of men, women or children.

Long past time that that message was clearly conveyed. And…

Now all the mistakes, misjudgements, delayed decisions and lack of planning in the last nine months have to be set aside in favour of a focus on vaccination. The procrastination, confusion, muddle and argument have all contributed to the appalling numbers now emerging.

And there’s a bitter truth in this too, as matters stand…

The early promise of a better year is true – on paper only. To be fit for purpose by summer, with shops and cafes open and children back safely at school, the 100,000-per-week mark would need to be deliverable every week until next December. That will not happen now. That’s the truth. Instead, we all need to carry on “carrying on” and staying alive long enough to get the call – sometime later this year – for a vaccine. Wear your mask. Wash your hands and stay home. Until 2022.

Comments»

1. Pangurbán - January 12, 2021

Technical note
We should cease using the term “ hospitality sector “. It’s a misnomer invented by the business groups.We (over)pay for what we receive; hospitality ceases when a payment is made:
its correct title, per Eurostat/ cso is
Accommodation / food services sector:

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - January 12, 2021

+1

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2. NFB - January 12, 2021

Was speaking to my father on Sunday. Absolutely does not want to hear anything that even slightly indicates this isn’t going to be over by summer at the latest. When I said I did not expect to be given the chance to get a vaccine before December, and more likely early 2022, he thought I was taking the piss.

Thinks as more vaccines are approved the rate of vaccination will go up, but he’s just one of a very many people that don’t get how many we need to get vaccinated before this goes away. Even if we got 200’000K per month starting next month – which we won’t – it would take a year to hit 60% of the population who would need it, the absolutely lowest figure for herd immunity I have seen.

This government just does not want to be the messenger here, for fear of being shot by people like my father. All this “one last push” nonsense. It’s just going to be worse for them when we bounce back into lockdowns again later this year!

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Jim Monaghan - January 12, 2021

A bit more optimistic. The deliveries are ramping up. If they keep increasing month by month, then the summer is looking goodish. But we should be critical of the EU regulatory authorities for a start. And government failure to plan. The vaccination service should have been ready. paperwork and IT systems as well.
And we will benefit from the roll out across the water and in the 6 counties.

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Pangurbán - January 12, 2021

Agree Jim with your slight optimism: there is already a spillover in vaccination such as to home helps being told to get to a hospital with spare doses towards the end of a working day : in addition there’s the “extra sixth dose “ effect, and the proposed deferral of s dose for those who have had COVID in the last six months: think of how much better we would have been were it not for Varadkar champing at the bit to reopen and undermining NPHET

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WorldbyStorm - January 12, 2021

Those measures you point to PB and JM are useful and certainly the idea of not giving it to people who had Covid in the last 6months should take a bit of a bite out of it. At least someone is thinking, though as you say, PB, if there hadn’t been the undermining of the public health message things might have been a lot better. But still, it’s going to be a close run thing – I’m sceptical of getting vaccinated until very late in the year. I hope I’m wrong and I’ve no problem at all with people ahead of me, but another factor is that this is now going to likely be a yearly thing!

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3. Alibaba - January 13, 2021

‘People who have recovered from infection [SARS-CoV-2] may not need to be vaccinated because they have already generated a protective immune response to the virus. … Vaccine stocks could be conserved by excluding these previously infected individuals from the vaccination programme … natural immunity should be exploited against a virus that is out of control; at least until vaccine supply is no longer the issue.’

Bear in mind that terminology can be confusing. WHO encouraged experts to use COVID-19. ‘CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ for virus, ‘D’ for disease and 19 indicates the year it was discovered.

Just as the general public has become familiar with this wording, officials have begun using SARS-CoV-2 in connection with the recent outbreak. SARS-CoV-2 is actually the virus that causes COVID-19. It is a different virus from another severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that caused an outbreak in 2002-2003.

https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/covid-vaccine-could-be-conserved-by-excluding-the-already-infected-1.4453302

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