Last Wednesday, Dr Tony Holohan warned that lives depended on people taking personal responsibility to wash their hands, observe social distancing, avoid crowds, wear masks in indoor spaces, reduce contacts and leave venues that don’t ask for vaccine certs.
On the same day, a government-sponsored science event for teenagers took place in a cinema where vaccinated and unvaccinated occupants sat cheek by jowl unmasked in a sealed room for two-and-a-half hours.
I know this because we did what we were told and risk-assessed before telling our son it wasn’t safe (going by Nphet’s criteria) to go.
When we broke the news, my son, who had planned to go with his friends, nailed the disingenuousness of “personal responsibility”. He said: “If it’s that unsafe, why does the Government allow it?”
How can a government-sponsored event for children simultaneously break public health advice yet not be in breach of guidelines? Tony Holohan’s “go/don’t go” messaging is as clear as bog water.
As recompense, my son got to choose something special to do. He chose seeing James Bond in the cinema. Our risk assessment concluded the safest time to go is when it’s quietest and when occupants had to show vaccination certs (over-18s), so midweek, during school hours. He was off school with an injured arm when we took him, but if he wasn’t, we would have taken him anyway. Education is important, but so are safety and well-being. In the absence of government leadership, parents have been abandoned to figure this out as we go along.
Most parents of multiple children don’t have time or energy to wade through constantly changing government guidelines to risk-assess every event each child is invited to. They trust the Government to have done its bit before reopening indoor events to ensure they’re safe.
Nphet’s Philip Nolan blamed Halloween partying for the current shambles. For my part, instead of having every child in the neighbourhood round to our house (my pre-Covid Halloween parties were legendary), I had three, all of whom were vaccinated. I converted the ramshackle doorless polytunnel into a “den of doom” for eating and high jinks before masking up to watch a film in a ventilated conservatory with a plug-in Hepa filter.
What did Nphet do for its part? Nine days before Halloween, with 2,399 cases – the highest since January – it approved the reopening of nightclubs (known super-spreaders), with no limits on numbers in stadiums or at indoor events. This happened despite the HPSC updating its ventilation guidance on November 18, citing evidence that “Covid-19 outbreaks are more commonly associated with crowded indoor spaces and poor ventilation can increase the risk of transmission”.
The Government, with Nphet’s blessing, lifted restrictions despite hospitals already being in crisis, knowing 90pc of nurses and midwives surveyed by the INMO said they had experienced mental exhaustion.
Having failed to turn the tap off, the Government now expects our jaded healthcare workers to act as the flooding nation’s Covid sandbags.
On June 17, with 373 reported Covid cases, Tony Holohan encouraged fully-vaccinated people to “resume normal life”, declaring: “We are now experiencing near elimination of Covid-19 in the vaccinated population”. The same day, Britain reported its biggest daily rise in cases since February.
Was Dr Holohan not aware that, on May 13, Public Health England updated the Delta variant vaccine escape risk from amber to red? On July 17, Ireland recorded 1,173 Covid cases, its highest daily incidence since February.
Public health measures underpinned by flawed modelling have brought us to the brink of yet another preventable lockdown. The louder the scientists clamour for ventilation mitigations such as Hepa air purifiers and upgrading masks to N95/FFP2, the more Dr Holohan doubles down on “wash your hands”, despite all the evidence showing the risk of transmission from surfaces is low.
With the nation’s health again in peril, now is not the time for misplaced deference. The chief medical officer should be accountable for his dogged denial of the scientific consensus within the WHO, ECDC and others that children can catch and spread Covid as effectively as adults, Covid is an airborne disease, asymptomatic transmission is common and long-Covid exists and can cause multi-organ damage.
When classrooms reopened in September, the data confirmed a spike in school outbreaks, indicating that Nphet’s modelling based on childhood transmission may be wrong. Rather than acting on the data and suggesting more effective mitigations, such as introducing masks and Hepa air purifiers, Nphet stopped contact tracing. In the past fortnight, Covid cases in children doubled from 8,000 to 16,000 and thousands of primary pupils and teachers are out sick with Covid every day as infection levels soar.
Masks combined with Hepa filters reduce transmission by 90pc, and for just €12m air purifiers could be installed in every classroom in the country.
The updated HPSC guidance states: “It is accepted that Hepa filters can reduce the transmission of Sars-CoV-2 and therefore will be effective at removing a substantial proportion of the airborne virus.” Why is Nphet ignoring this guidance?
Ireland has an ignominious history when it comes to child neglect. Failing to protect our children from a preventable dangerous disease indicates the continued absence of children’s rights in government and Nphet decision-making.
It’s not too late for Dr Holohan to take responsibility instead of blaming individuals for Nphet’s doomed deployment of hand sanitiser as our primary defence against a deadly airborne disease.