National strategy on Covid-19 is key
Sir, – The Government has announced that a medium-term framework to address Covid-19 over the next six months will be available on Tuesday.
Given the increasing rate of infection Europe-wide and in Ireland, the dissatisfaction of Irish medical experts with the results of efforts to control it, and the series of blunders in the Government’s recent management and communication of the situation, a detailed national strategy to address Covid-19 over the next six to 12 months is urgently required. Ad hoc reactions and ambiguous communications from the National Public Health Emergency Team and the Government are not adequate.
In the early, emergency period of Covid-19, the aim and strategy of the Government were clear: flatten the curve to prevent the medical services becoming overwhelmed. There was a clearly phased timescale, with regular reviews and meaningful updates on progress to the public.
The extent to which the aim was achieved depends on your perspective.
The hospitals were not overwhelmed, although at significant cost to staff, those in nursing homes and other vulnerable groups.
On the other hand, the graph for March to June looks little like a flattened distribution curve, rising steeply to a peek on April 10th and then dropping sharply from April 24th until late June, with an extending tail, now rising again.
More importantly, however, in that onset phase, despite the huge sacrifices demanded of everyone, the country demonstrated a high level of social solidarity.
The current aim, to suppress the virus as far as possible, lacks any form of strategy, having few if any of the “Smart” characteristics of a strategy (specific, measurable, achievable, results-orientated, and time-framed).
Does “suppress” mean to reduce it to zero, 50 or 100 cases a day, a week, or a month? Have we a valid and reliable method for measuring this?
How far that “as far as possible” is depends on the extent to which we are willing to disrupt our economic, personal, and social wellbeing to achieve the stated aim.
One of the most worrying outcomes of this lack of strategic thinking is the emergence of a blaming culture, undermining social solidarity. Parents being blamed for bringing children to the beach. Younger people being blamed for house parties. The elderly being blamed for attending family and social gatherings. Overseas nationals in direct provision centres or working in meat plants identified as virus sources.
This blaming culture is likely to drive the virus underground with consequences for further community spread. The value of publishing detailed information regarding the location and sources of clusters of Covid-19 is becoming increasingly questionable.
Producing, in a timely manner, a detailed strategy that takes account of the nation’s economic, social, and individual needs in addition to medical considerations requires in my opinion, the establishment of a cross-sectoral group, with representatives of diverse interests, including vulnerable groups, business, trade unions, tourism, and health professions.
The group should meet over a short-term period of about four weeks to consider perspectives beyond those of the NPHET.
It should focus as a starting point on the timeframe within which a vaccine can reasonably be expected to be available. It should consider the role of the Central Statistics Office in identifying the most appropriate, valid, and reliable method for counting and reporting cases and trends nationally and internationally.
It should consider the costs and benefits of alternative existing strategies including the zero-Covid (New Zealand) model, the Swedish model, or an alternative for Ireland and make recommendations for a Strategy that adheres to Smart principles. – Yours, etc,