OPINION: If government’s rejection of NPHET’s nationwide Level 5 recommendation proves to be successful, confidence in NPHET will prove to be challenging

On Sunday evening last, a letter from NPHET directed to the Irish government was leaked, which highlighted their grave concern over the rapid escalating prevalence of Covid-19 throughout the Republic, and ultimately recommending the entire country move to Level 5 restrictions for a period of four weeks. Panic and anxiety rapidly emerged in households, businesses and people throughout the island. The following period of events which occurred will prove to be a monumental moment in Ireland’s battle against Covid-19.

Government’s decision to reject NPHET’s advice publicly for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, and compromising to nationwide Level 3 restrictions for a period of three weeks, was a massive decision by Cabinet. It will take the next few weeks to establish whether, or whether not, government’s decision proved to be the right decision. However, if Covid-19 cases begin to stabilise, and ultimately descent in the coming weeks, what will this mean for the government’s and the people’s confidence in NPHET going forward?  

Since the emergence of the pandemic, NPHET has been the government’s advisory arm on Covid-19, giving advice on the necessary restrictions and precautionary measures the people must abide by in order to supress the spread of the virus. If NPHET’s Level 5 recommendation, which would cause serious issues for businesses, people’s livelihoods and general welfare, as well as the Irish economy, proves to be an overly-cautious recommendation, and if government’s rejection and compromising to Level 3 approach proves to be effective, questions and unsureness will surround NPHET.

If this is the case, and government is proved to have made the right decision in rejecting NPHET’s advice, NPHET’s authoritative position in the country today will be wilted. This is not saying government will not continue to use NPHET as their primary source of advice and knowledge surrounding Covid-19. However, with future difficult moments and decisions expected to be made surrounding Covid-19 in Ireland, one would assume government will make these tough decisions with a more confident role in themselves, rather than primarily in NPHET.

So, what does this mean for NPHET?

The next three weeks are essential for NPHET and their respected position going forward. If cases continue to grow exponentially as they currently are, and the country is ultimately forced into Level 5 restrictions as NPHET has recommended, there will be a revival of confidence placed in our health experts. However, if cases stabilise, and ultimately descent in the coming weeks, NPHET’s position will be greatly questioned going forward in this pandemic.

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