Ireland’s Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly yesterday declared before an Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee that the State was at a “tipping point,” and that the coronavirus pandemic is “close to having us lock down the country again.”
Imagine if you had fallen asleep on the 31st of December 2019, and somehow missed everything that happened between January and August 2020, waking up on the 27th of August 2020 to the news that Ireland’s Minister for Health had threatened to place all citizens under house arrest, permitting limited excursions for “essential purposes.”
Surely you would want to know why he would be threatening such a drastic, war-like imposition upon social and economic life and civil liberties? You might wonder whether Ireland had somehow been occupied by an illiberal, oppressive regime, during your 8-month slumber.
If someone told you it was due to a pandemic, you might think the country is awash with a lethal infectious disease, and that the only possible way to bring the disease under control is to confine everyone to their home.
But a bit of research would reveal that the situation on the ground is actually very stable: there was indeed a pandemic, and there were 160 patients in intensive care at the peak of the pandemic back in April, and there have been over 1,700 deaths attributed to the disease over the course of the year.
Yet as you scan through more recent hospital data, you discover that there are currently only four or five people in intensive care with confirmed Covid-19 infections. Daily reported deaths associated with Covid-19 have fluctuated between 0 and 3 for almost all of July and August. Irish hospitals have been relatively quiet since early July.
So you would undoubtedly scratch your head and wonder, why on earth would our Minister for Health be threatening us with a lockdown when hospital data clearly reveal that we are no longer in anything even approaching pandemic conditions? We are demonstrably in a situation of Covid-19 remission.
Sure, we may well get a second wave this winter, but currently, there is not even the remotest pretext that could justify a national lockdown.
Imagine if someone defended the threatened lockdown, saying, “Oh, but we are running tests on the population, and finding a growing number of “clusters” of Covid-19 across the country. We’ve got to get the situation under control, before it’s too late.”
You would naturally ask them, but why are you so worried about those clusters, if they haven’t translated into any serious outbreak of disease? Why would you consider shutting down an entire society and economy if you have no clinical confirmation that these “clusters” you speak of are driving a significant spike in serious disease or death?
You might even wonder, why we would consider shutting down society at all? Since when was it an accepted method of disease control to forcibly confine healthy people to their homes?
“Oh,” your more seasoned interlocutor would reply, “didn’t you know that since January of this year, it’s been all the rage to quarantine healthy populations?”
You might wish you had never woken up.