Nphet and the Government


Sir, –And to think we laughed at Michael Gove when he said that people have had enough of experts. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – Your editorial (“The Irish Times view on Government-Nphet tensions: relations must now be repaired”, October 7th) suggests that the National Public Health Emergency team erred by recommending an immediate Level 5 lockdown, having done little to prepare public opinion and apparently without having flagged it to the Government.

Of equal concern is the failure of Nphet to evaluate the impact of the alternative of moving to Level 3 countrywide.

Co Dublin was moved to that level on September19th and the effectiveness of the measure will soon become apparent.

Allowing for a ramp-up in behavioural change on the part of the public arising from the new advice and the delay between infection and detection of cases, it is only after a period of 14 days or so (or by October 2nd) that the effect of moving to Level 3 in Dublin would begin to become evident.

In this light, the Nphet advice of Sunday October 4th was premature.

By the end of this week, sufficient relevant data will have accumulated to enable an evaluation of the effectiveness of a move from Level 2 to Level 3 in Dublin.

In the meantime, it is worth noting that, according to the Department of Health, in the three days to October 5th, the average number of Covid cases in Dublin was 115 compared to 192 for the equivalent period one week earlier. – Yours, etc,




Co Dublin.

Sir, – It is surprising that travel rules under the latest Level 3 restrictions are still county-based and that this aspect is being given such emphasis. The inappropriateness of this approach was evident in the Kildare, Laois, Offaly restrictions.

For example, people in the Co Laois suburbs of Carlow were excluded from the rest of the town.

This drew attention to the irrationality of county boundaries, which are at variance with the current residential situation in many instances.

The anomalies associated with county-based rules come into even sharper focus with the current restrictions.

Residents of Shankill, Co Dublin, are advised and instructed not to travel to nearby Bray, but can head to more distant Balbriggan, Blanchardstown, or Ballyfermot, or anywhere else the 1.3 million or so inhabitants of Dublin’s city and counties reside. Those living in parts of Athlone located in Co Roscommon should not visit the town centre.

The same applies to the Co Meath suburbs of Drogheda, and in a number of other places crossed by, or adjacent to, boundaries that are largely unchanged since Victorian times.

Incidentally, the frequent citing of the Kildare, Laois, Offaly experience as evidence for the potential effectiveness of Level 3 restrictions seems quite misguided.

The virus outbreaks in those areas were largely associated with specific meat processing plants and some residential centres.

Large areas of the three counties had few cases and the problem was addressed primarily in the specific localised hotspots.

The current situation seems radically different, with significant community spreading. It is difficult to see how an effective approach to this much greater and more pervasive problem can be modelled on the Kildare, Laois, and Offaly experience.

It seems likely that an effective strategy will require robust action to address irresponsible behaviour wherever it occurs, further strengthening of testing and tracing arrangements, and communicating more effectively, especially with younger people, rather than largely meaningless geographic restrictions. Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – I quote Winston Churchill: “Nothing would be more fatal than for the government of states to get into the hands of experts.

“Expert knowledge is limited knowledge and the unlimited ignorance of the plain man, who knows where it hurts, is a safer guide than any rigorous direction of a specialist.” – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – Perhaps our Government needs to remind itself of the first role assigned to Nphet in its own terms of reference dated February 11th, 2020 (and with no review date stated), namely, to “oversee and provide direction, guidance, support and expert advice across the health service and the wider public service, for the overall national response to coronavirus, including national and regional and other outbreak control arrangements.”

As an aside, the last published minutes of the Nphet meeting on the website is from August 27th, 2020.

Surely, the public is entitled to be kept up to date not with daily numbers but with direct and effective communication as indicated in the said terms of reference.

Time to update those terms! – Yours, etc,




Co Blackrock.