It’s like we’ve been sent back to March last year, when all of this started and we weren’t sure what coronavirus would mean for us. But we knew it wasn’t going to be good.
Now the Omicron variant is coming. The experts say it’s significantly more transmissible than Delta, and there are some who say it’s so infectious that eventually most people will get it. Others doubt that.
There’s data from South Africa saying Omicron spreads faster but kills fewer people than Delta and makes fewer seriously ill.
But there’s also data from the UK that suggest Omicron has hit there every bit as hard as Delta did.
Three weeks ago, no one had heard of Omicron, so we’re not certain of anything. Just to add to the party, Delta will still attack us after Omicron gets stuck in.
We have the vaccines, they have already saved millions of lives
across the globe — but they’re not magic. There are enough breakthrough infections to ensure no one dare relax.
We will eventually get improved vaccines, more finely tuned, we hope.
Last year, the medics were passionate in our defence — some returned from abroad to help, others came out of retirement, nursing students came forward to take some of the weight.
The medics are now tired, the work is relentless, they’ve seen a lot of people die, not least their fellow health workers.
And the medics might well be feeling that people who should know better have been taking them for granted. We await our fate.
Meanwhile, in one of its periodic attempts to use the pandemic as a cheap crowd-pleaser, the Government got us three hours more drinking time at a cost yet to be reckoned.
In the middle of a health crisis of uncertain proportions, we had to put everything on hold until Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could sort things out to the satisfaction of their backbenchers.
Incredibly, shamefully, the Government picked this moment of uncertainty and danger to stage a clownish re-run of the attack it made on Nphet last year.
Nphet may be right, they may be wrong, but they have more information than anyone else and the experience and the training to analyse it.
Certainly, they have more credibility than the Government, whose choices have on occasion been disastrous.
A year ago, FF/FG rejected Nphet advice and threw the pub and restaurant doors open. In the two months that followed, 2,312 people died — two thousand, three hundred and twelve grieving families.
In just two months, that reckless, populist decision doubled the death total of the pandemic so far.
Of course, everyone knows everything is different this year — the numbers being killed by the virus are way, way down, right?
In November last year, before the Government rejected Nphet advice and fully opened the pubs and restaurants, Covid killed 190 people.
In November of this year, before the Government rejected Nphet’s advice that pubs shut at 5pm, Covid killed 210 of us.
To paraphrase one of our most prominent comedians: It hasn’t gone away, you know.
Without the vaccines, Delta would have meant wholesale slaughter. In a farcical re-run of last year’s disaster, Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar decided to take firm control of Covid “messaging”. Instead of someone from Nphet explaining what was happening, the messaging would be streamlined.
There was a strong smell of “Yes, we’ll let you tot up the figures, but we get to make the announcement, so everyone knows we’re in charge”.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet met with Nphet. On Wednesday, you couldn’t turn around without seeing Mr Varadkar’s photo beside a range of headlines telling us what advice Mr V expected Nphet to give the Government on Thursday. Somewhere in the distance, Micheál Martin was doing the same, but — as ever — Mr Varadkar had the edge in the self-promotion game.
I was watching the Six One news when Stephen Donnelly came on. To be honest, before Stephen finished telling us what advice he expected Nphet to give the Government, I switched over to Bradley Walsh and The Chase. The quiz was not only more entertaining than Stephen, it was just as informative.
It began to look very much like the prime purpose of Tuesday’s cabinet meeting with Nphet was to collect material for the politicians’ media performances on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Nphet had its decision-making meeting to draw up advice on how best we can be protected in the dodgy days to come. By this time, Mr Varadkar had alerted the media to urgent news: the Cabinet would meet on Friday to discuss what Nphet said on Thursday.
Friday came and the Cabinet Covid Committee had to meet first, so it would have an opinion to give the entire Cabinet when it, in turn, met in the afternoon.
This, apparently, is the Government’s idea of streamlining the Covid messaging.
Meanwhile, a bunch of political party hacks emerged to stage a “backlash” against Nphet.
Have you ever met a backbench TD? I’ve met individual backbenchers who are decent, intelligent people. Gathered together, seeking to use their cumulative wisdom to put Nphet in its place, this crowd suggested they might collectively match the IQ of a Bord na Móna briquette. And these were the people whose views the Government took most seriously. And the most serious thing at issue, in their view, was drinking time.
If we need someone to shake hands, make promises and attend constituency funerals, we can give any number of backbenchers a shout. For advice in deadly circumstances, no thanks.
RTÉ went full vintners. There wasn’t a scientist or a medic in sight — wall-to-wall pub owners, from the radio News at One to the TV Nine O’Clock News.
Twenty-five minutes into one bulletin, I thought I saw a medic, but I think it was a mirage.
I actually gave a small scream of despair as RTÉ News interviewed Sammy Sausages, of panto fame. Now, I won’t hear a word said against Sammy Sausages. In my panto-duty days, Sammy gave us many a laugh. But, seriously, there is a time and there is a place.
One restaurant chap told the Irish Independent restaurants have “already taken one for Team Ireland”. It was time, he implied, for someone else to take a hit.
Is it possible, after two years of crisis, that there are people running restaurants who don’t understand what’s happening? They and pub and club owners are in the business of gathering people together in enclosed spaces. During a pandemic, that spreads the virus, so we have to rein it in.
No, it’s not fair. Viruses don’t understand the concept of fair.
Right now, the gathering-people-in-enclosed-spaces business is in trouble. It will have its day, again.
Meanwhile, my right to drink and eat fine food in convivial surroundings cannot trump someone else’s right to live.
Nphet assembles data and makes “models” that indicate probable outcomes if this or that decision is taken. These are not predictions. They are the spread of possibilities. The outcome will be influenced by how we behave.
If we do nothing, ABC will probably happen. If we take certain measures, DEF will probably happen. If we close down hard, XYZ will probably happen.
These are guides to action, advice on interventions we can make. Nphet does not make predictions — it produces options, imperfect choices based on probabilities. It suggests the safest practical path, it’s not looking for re-election.
At every stage of this crisis, from March 2020 onwards, we have taken the scientific advice and we have avoided the worst outcome — leaving aside the Christmas 2020 fiasco, which was politically directed.
If we continue to do that, we have the best chance of reducing the damage that Omicron will do.
Good luck in the dodgy days to come.