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Sunday, May 16, 2021

OPINION: The ‘Hate’ in Ireland and NPHET’s Love-Hate Relationship is Slightly Uncalled For

The National Public Health Emergency Team have been the subject of praise, ridicule, sometimes hatred, but oft-times misunderstanding.

The group (along with many of our politicians, but I will not speak to their merits or downfalls right now) have regularly been accused by us, the general public, of being out of touch with reality when it comes to their public health advice.

The return to a nationwide lockdown was always an inevitability – one that we chose to forget about – as we enjoyed our blissful return to surface level reality between Act 1 and Act 2, that is ‘Wave 1’ and ‘Wave 2’ as they are less affectionately known in my head.

We were back in gyms and sitting in cafés, we were off on our staycations and freely enjoying our home country’s immense beauty as we attempted for our own sakes to naïvely ignore our fateful return to the state-imposed confinement of our own homes… life was good for a little while.

Then, like the scolding father figure he appears to have become, Dr. Tony Holohan dropped back onto the scene like a hydrogen bomb, frowning upon our recently embraced complacency and suggesting an immediate and unpopular return to a statewide lockdown.

Was he wrong to do so? No, I don’t think he was. Dr. Holohan’s job is the same as NPHET’s, to advise the government what steps to take given the current public health situation. It is then down to the government to make an informed decision for us, the general public, based on the health advice and what they believe to be economically and socially sustainable. The latter two decision-making criteria have nothing to do with NPHET, their sole advisory concern is health, everything else is down to the politicians we vote for (admittedly we do vote them in without considering the possibility of a global pandemic but ho-hum).

So Level 5 lockdown was an unpopular decision when Dr. Holohan first recommended it, but the government decided they were not willing to so much as compromise and move to Level 4. Instead they made an ill-fated attempt at slowing the spread of the virus through the somewhat feeble grip of Level 3 restrictions, which seemed more or less the same as Level 2 but with no pints.

Despite our nation’s leaders repeated reassurances that Level 3 would be adequate, we all knew Holohan was right and that Level 5 was on its way. We, the less informed, supposedly less versed on the matter, general public understood from the moment that Dr. Holohan suggested a return to lockdown that it was inescapable.

Why then did our government delay the matter? The risk indicators were showing us that a spike in virus cases and deaths was on its way. What was the point in waiting? Did it benefit our economy to be nearly fully open for just two weeks? Was it intended as a means for boosting morale? Or did the government simply not want to appear as though they were subject to the whims of the advisory agency whose sole role is to protect public health?

NPHET have come under plenty of criticism, and I don’t agree with all of their recommendations myself, but their job is to offer what they deem to be the best health advice in the middle of the biggest health crisis any of us have ever experienced, they are fulfilling their duty, we cannot criticise them for that.

I am somewhat loathe to criticise the government too strongly either as they have been given an incredibly difficult balancing act to perform as they try to protect lives while simultaneously trying to keep the public on their side, the latter being an effort that is most likely doomed to failure, but such is the ruthlessness of political life.

However, I still fail to understand the logic of ignoring the voice of people who are experts in their field. Level 5 was imminent, so why not accept that with some modifications? They had no issues with modifying the levels prior to that. Why did they not heed Dr. Holohan and satiate his desire for lockdown while simultaneously agreeing upon a compromise?

I do not pretend to fully understand the advice offered by NPHET, or why our government makes the decisions it does, maybe they were right to do as they did, I am lucky enough to have the benefit of hindsight when I criticise them.

One thing I do know however is that NPHET have a single job, to advise the government as they see fit, based on their analysis of the current public health situation. They have done that job without question and without fault, we must not turn against them for that.

– Daniel Potter

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