Do we just need to learn to live with Covid-19 or do we need more lockdowns?

Depending on your view of how we should deal with Covid-19 Leo Varadkar is either reckless or a political genius. He was able to get all the kudos for calmly handling the early stage of lockdown; then he was able to offload the leadership mantle to Micheál Martin for him to deal with the sh*tshow stage.

Leo has positioned himself as a clear alternative voice to Fianna Fáil dithering. I expect to see Varadkar back in the Taoiseach seat within the next year.

In an interview with The Currency (paywalled), also reported in the Irish Times, Varadkar had this to say:

Mr Varadkar also said that it is not realistic to continue locking down the economy until Covid-19 is eradicated.

In an interview with The Currency, the Fine Gael leader said that there are increasing coronavirus cases across Europe and Ireland but there is “only a modest increase in the number of people who are in hospital, and also thankfully, the amount of people who are passing away.”

“Any death is regrettable, and our sympathies go to the families affected, but this second wave which is happening across Europe and Ireland is very different. As we speak now, only 1 per cent of our hospital beds have Covid patients in them and maybe 10 or 15 per cent of ICU. If it got three or four times worse, it would still be only using up a relatively small amount of our health service capacity.”

Mr Varadkar said that other countries such as Belgium are no longer using case numbers to make their decisions on restrictions and on policy.

“They are looking at hospitalisations, ICU capacity and on deaths. It is a job for us as politicians to say to the public health people that maybe we should be focusing on that. The objective was to make sure our health service did not get overwhelmed, not to lock down the country and the economy until there was no Covid at all. That is not realistic.”

So Dr Leo has taken the pulse of the nation and decided that the public is in no mood for more lockdowns. The public will side with Leo as he was an actual doctor and they assume he understands a lot of this stuff better than most. He reinforced his position on Clare Byrne Live last night where he attacked the NPHET advice to move to level 5 restrictions:

I think he has a point, we need to look at more than just the case numbers. On the NI Covid dashboard we see there are only 12 people in NI ICU with Covid-19. Less than a quarter of people in ICU are there with Covid-19.

The experts say that as cases rise more people will end up in hospital, maybe, but so far the data shows hospitals are very far from overwhelmed. Meanwhile, all the normal operations, cancer treatments, heart problems etc get reduced or put off with calls to ringfence surgery beds for normal operations. In the Republic they have a similar situation with hospital capacity:

The latest idea is the current breaker. The idea is to shut down everything for a few weeks. I don’t get the logic of doing this as will Covid-19 not just continue to spread again after the circuit breaker? We had a lockdown for 3 months and the wee fecker did not disappear, hard to see 2-3 weeks making much difference. I can understand them doing it to preserve hospital capacity but as we know from the data above there is no issue with hospital capacity at the moment. Like parents everywhere I just pray they don’t close the schools.

On the other side, you have the people proposing more lockdowns. They make the case that we are not sure of the long term repercussions of Covid-19 will be, the so-called Long Tail. Will tens of thousands of people be left with lifelong debilitating conditions?

I thought the virologist Dr Chris Smith spoke well on Good Morning Ulster this morning:

Whatever position you take on the debate I do not envy our leaders trying to make decisions, no matter what strategy they go for there will be downsides. At best they can hope for is that they take the least worst options.

Photo by pasja1000 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA