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Covid-19: ‘Grim’ briefing from health officials gives that Truman Show feeling

Inside Politics: Cabinet subcommittee hears submissions from Nphet, HSE and vaccine tsar Prof Brian MacCraith

The more it goes on, the more it feels like we are all living in the set of The Truman Show*. The moment we think we can break free and finally escape the bubble, another traffic jam mysteriously materialises out of nowhere to leave us stuck, stuck, stuck.

How our hearts sank last night when we heard of the “grim” Nphet assessment of the situation.

Eamon Ryan is usually one of the more upbeat of the senior group of Ministers, but even he was tempering expectations as he emerged from the meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 last night.

His summation: “Cautious and listen to health advice”.


The group of key Ministers had received briefings from Nphet, from Paul Reid and from vaccine tsar Prof Brian MacCraith.

“It’s critical that we get the next few weeks right,” he told reporters outside Government Buildings. He would not really talk about the long-term. It was all about April and May and getting it right.

“First things first. We have got to get April right. We need to get the extra million vaccines in April. That will give us real protection. A further million vaccines in May, and we are a large way there. It’s not far away. We have to be careful not to jump ahead and get the next few weeks right first.”

So what does it all mean?

Well, the advice from Nphet was that, given the stubbornly high numbers, there is a real risk of a fourth wave unless restrictions continue.

But against that it is obvious that with the longer evenings and the better weather, more and more people will tire of life under lockdown and begin to defy it. It’s going to be especially difficult to keep kids separated from each other, especially in outdoor scenarios.

There is some counterintuitive strategy going on. There is a school of thought that many people are already not in compliance, and if you give them more latitude, they will defy restrictions even more – especially if there is some critical mass around it.

At the same time, the majority of people have been in compliance but are looking for at least some easing ahead of a firm promise of a return to some form of normality by summer’s end.

The talk last night was of gradual easing of restrictions – of it happening on a phased basis in April. So even modest steps such as the end of the 5km rule, the return of outdoor activities for children and the resumption of home-building won’t happen all at once.

Jennifer Bray and Jack Horgan-Jones have a full report on the intelligence they have gathered ahead of today's Cabinet meeting.

Simon Carswell led the reporting on the advice that was given to the sub-committee by Nphet.

*For those who are not as old as me The Truman Show is a comedy starring Jim Carrey who has been the unknowing star of a reality television show all his life set in a vast studio that mirrors a fantasy version of a small-town America.

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Of course there is that critical Cabinet meeting this morning. Neither the Dáil nor the Seanad are sitting today, but it is a busy day for committees.

This morning Facebook and Twitter are at the Housing Committee giving their views on the Electoral Reform Bill. Both have issues (Facebook more so) with the definition of political advertising.

The Health Committee is conducting a review of the Medical Card scheme.

Also at 9.30am the Enterprise Committee is scrutinising the Welfare at Work Bill with representatives from the Health and Safety Authority, the HSE and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Emily O’Reilly, the EU ombudsman, will be addressing the Petitions Committee.

The Media, Arts, and Culture Committee is hosting a round-table discussion at 12.30 with various groups to discuss the impact Covid-19 has had on the entertainment sector.

The disability sub-committee is examining housing policy and obligation under the UN Convention on rights of people with disabilities.

Simon Coveney, in his role as Minister for Defence, is at the Foreign Affairs Committee discussing maritime surveillance under the European Defence Agency Project. Expect that to raise some controversy.

So will this. The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (Ceta) between the EU and Canada is getting its first outing before the EU Affairs Committee. Former EU trade director general David O’Sullivan will discuss the agreement. This is one of the issues that has split the Green Party in recent months – the party’s internal issues will likely come to the fore again later this week.