Every Political Correspondent spoke with one voice moments after the news of the NEPHET recommendation leaked- the Government was shocked. It was angry. It had been caught off guard. They never saw it comin’.
They complained to the PolCorrs- how could these experts do this to them? ‘Why me?’, we could hear echoing through every line, ‘Why do I have to deal with this now? I don’t want it to be true’.
This is, bluntly, an unworthy and immature response for the Government to have and it is a dangerously self-indulgent thing to do to attack their own scientific experts.
I don’t know if time will prove NEPHET right or wrong. I do know that the counter arguments suddenly mustered into the public domain (hospitals aren’t full, fewer people die now from Covid, why do doctors keep harping on about saving lives instead of money?) appeared from people less qualified in public health. And I know none of them addressed the acceleration in the rate of transmission (the famous r number) which has been the anxiety NEPHET have been voicing for nearly a month.
What we know is that if you are the leadership of the country, in a crisis you need to lead.
This is a crisis.
The Government has been given unhappy news. It has been engaged in a whole-state project of returning to the status quo ante. It was ready to speed that up or slow it down. It was not ready to reverse it.
It is possible the Government believes that it can’t turn the ship of state swiftly. But this is a pandemic- it’s not the Budget, with friendly chats with familiar pressure groups and lobbyists (sometimes very familiar as with the D’Arcy jump). A virus cannot be appealed to for fair play. It won’t temper its spread because the political cost of stopping it is too high. If the right choice is Level 5, that’s the Government’s job to explain.
Setting up an expert body and then complaining in public about what they tell you isn’t leading. It’s whinging.
Meanwhile, just a moment from me to you; if we do need to bring in further temporary restrictions to our lives and work, we’ll get through it. It’ll be zero-craic and we’ll do it anyway. And at the end we will see people again and groan at all the pickling, or whatever new craze grips us.
And some of those people will laugh with us, instead of having died, because we made that sacrifice. We won’t know who we saved, but I don’t think that will make it less heroic.
We did masks, eventually. We can do this, with or without the Government’s help. But for all our sakes we can only hope they can suppress their complaining about leading, and just do it.