Government struggling to retain ability to tell country what to do

Many Government figures reacted with anger at the recommendations of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to close hospitality businesses at 5pm when they were first reported on Friday morning.

By Friday evening, that had given way to foreboding about the threat from the Omicron variant and the grim suspicion that this quasi-lockdown for the hospitality industry will be followed by a real lockdown for everyone.

At Friday night’s press conference at Government Buildings, neither Taoiseach Micheál Martin nor chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan gave much reassurance that January 2022 won’t go the way of January 2021.

“There are no guarantees,” Martin said. Well, yes.

The projections produced by Nphet were “sobering”, numerous sources said, as if that wasn’t an inappropriate metaphor, given the circumstances.

Nobody pointed out that Nphet’s projections have frequently been almost drunkenly inaccurate; however, unless they are wrong by a colossal margin altogether, things are going to get very difficult over the coming weeks. Infections are going to rocket.

Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland



Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU



High-ranking sources said they were livid that no indications were given at a meeting on Tuesday between the Coalition leaders and senior Nphet officials that such a draconian stance would be taken.

All sources agreed that the Government had been surprised by the Nphet advice, with one high-ranking person saying that there was “fury” that it had been “sprung” on the Taoiseach and his fellow leaders.

The view of a number of people was that the three party leaders had met Holohan and Nphet officials on Tuesday seeking to avoid the Government being surprised by sudden lockdown advice from Nphet – yet that was exactly what had happened.

Omicron threat

The anger at the way this was “sprung” on the Government remains, but it is just not the most important thing anymore.

Many sources questioned the need for the measures proposed by Nphet, though others acknowledged the threat from the Omicron variant and pointed to the worsening situation in the UK, increasingly the touchstone for what is likely to happen here.

There was a strong last-minute lobby by the hospitality industry, with Fianna Fáil Senators and TDs urging the Taoiseach to reject the Nphet advice. In the end the decision was to split the difference – moving Nphet’s 5pm to 8pm.This will likely please nobody.

A significant concern is that the measures could remove the incentive for many people to get the booster jab, which the Government has identified as a key element of its strategy to fight the new variant. Several sources also questioned whether there would be public compliance with lockdown-type measures.

Politicians believe they are better judges of the public mood than the public health officials, and say that many people will get around new restrictions, rendering them useless, or even counterproductive. “The ability to tell the country what to do is disappearing,” said one senior figure.

An obvious implication of yesterday’s move is that whatever assurances the Government gives about keeping society and the economy and schools open now lack any real authority.

The Government – along with the rest of us – is at the mercy of the virus.

So much for living with Covid. Seems Covid is living with us.

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