THE head of the Dáil’s Covid-19 committee has questioned whether those who set the rules on curbing the virus understand how people really live their lives, insisting that the current approach is not working.
In a sharp attack on government and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), Deputy Michael McNamara said a greater focus must be placed on educating people about how to live alongside the virus. Reacting to news that Gardaí are to be given enhanced powers to shut down pubs in breach of regulations, the Scariff man was highly critical of the government’s current policies.
“We’ve had inspection, after inspection, after inspection,” he said. “On one weekend alone, Gardaí inspected 6,000 premises. At the same time, our infection rates continue to rise. In other countries, all pubs have been open all summer and yet we now have higher rates of Covid-19 than Sweden who avoided a lockdown. The policy seems to be that the beatings will continue until morale improves.”
The Independent TD, who has spent months chairing the Dáil’s Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, said that while restrictions here succeeded in preventing a surge of cases that might overwhelm the health services, the current strategy was misguided. “We set out to flatten the curve and we achieved that,” he said. “Thankfully, we are no seeing huge numbers in our Intensive Care Units (ICUs). Thankfully, our death rate is very low. I would like to see some acknowledgement from NPHET that people are taking precautions and that they can’t do any more. Given the restrictions on social life, you would have to question if they have any understanding of how people really live their lives. Humans are social animals. They meet each other. It reminds me of research on the approach to the AIDS epidemic when gay men were told not to have sex. That didn’t work, because humans have sex. What works is educating people about the risks of their behaviour and about what works.”
Asked about the scenes of open-air drinking parties in Kilkee and Killarney, Deputy McNamara said he couldn’t condone those involved. “What happened in Kilkee and Killarney was wrong,” he asserted, “but young people need an outlet. As it is, they can’t go to a bar or to a club or to a match. That’s not a sustainable way to live.”
Responding to the claim by NPHET this week that local lockdowns, including that in Kildare, had worked, he said they “simply pressed the pause button”.
“If you had a magic wand you could make this all go away,” he said. “We must learn to live alongside coronavirus for the moment, in the same way that we live with every other virus from herpes to influenza.”
This week, the incidence of Covid-19 outstripped that of Sweden for the first time in the pandemic. On August 31, Ireland recorded 30.6 cases of the virus per 100,000 population over the previous 14 days, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).
Sweden, which avoided most of the restrictions imposed here, saw its incidence drop steeply in the same period, to 23.4 cases per 100,000 population.