Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has criticised Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan’s proposal for a Level 5 lockdown, saying it hadn’t been thought through and was delivered with no prior consultation.
“It was landed on us on a Sunday night as a surprise and without consultation.”
Asked on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live about where it leave the relationship between the Government and NPHET, he said they “have to get back on the same page and do the right thing”.
Describing the Level 5 lockdown plan as a “circuit breaker strategy” and “experimental”, Mr Varadkar said such a move “requires proper thought, prior consultation and a Plan B if it doesn’t work and we’ve not had any of that”.
He denied that the Government was gambling with people’s health.
“I think what we’re doing is very much in line with what’s recommended by the World Health Organisation and the ECBC."
But in terms of economics, he said: "We can’t say for certainty if the country can afford a second lockdown."
Denying that the decision is being made between economy and public health, Mr Varadkar said it was about “public interest always first”.
“My view on this from day has been the same: put public health first. Our economy will not do well if people are sick, customers are sick and staff are sick. But it can’t be public health only. We have to bear in mind the long-term impact of a prolonged second lockdown.”
He said Government decisions “can’t be public health only. Poverty is one of the biggest killers as well.”
Asked by Claire Byrne where it leaves the relationship with NPHET and Dr Holohan, Mr Varadkar said: “We are all good people, we all want what’s best, and we all want to avoid long-term damage that will cost lives”.
He said that after today's meeting “the CMO accepts that and you won’t see a repeat of this sort of thing”.
While Mr Varadkar expressed confidence and support for Mr Holohan, asked if he had confidence in NPHET he said: “I have confidence in NPHET to dispense public health advice, but that is what they do. They don’t advise the public, they advise the Government and the Government decides. One thing that needs to be borne in mind is that these are very good people – 40 of them – but all coming from medical, scientific or civil service backgrounds.
"None of those people, for example, would have faced being on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment benefit, none of them would have to tell somebody that they are losing their job, and none of them would have to shutter a business for the last time.
"And I’m not talking about the economy, I’m talking about something that could have happened to half a million human beings from tomorrow.
"Sometimes the reason why politicians make these decisions is because we are the ones who can see the bigger picture. It’s not just about a virus and statistics around the virus, or death rates, it’s about real people and how it impacts on so many different people and so many different communities in so many different ways.”