The Government has already given up on any attempt to control the spread of COVID but is not ready to admit it – according to political commentator John McGuirk.
He was speaking as a record 23,817 new cases were announced this evening.
Despite the surge in cases, the number of patients in ICU has so far remained steady, while the increase in the number of patients in hospital appears to be slowing.
This morning, there were 941 COVID patients in hospital - up 13 on yesterday - and 90 in intensive care, which was down four on yesterday.
On The Hard Shoulder this evening, Mr McGuirk said several recent policy announcements from Government suggest a shift away from attempts to limit the spread of the virus.
He said these included the reopening of schools with no new restrictions, the limiting of PCR testing to people over 40 and those with a positive antigen test and the lifting of the testing requirement for passengers arriving into Ireland.
“My point on those things is not that they are good, bad or indifferent – but that they are not the kind of thing you do if your policy objective is to stop, slow or restrict the spread of COVID,” he said.
“For example, if you take the school situation alone - and my own view is this is the right policy so I am not criticising the Government necessarily - but if you look at schools alone, we now have a situation where, because PCR testing has been restricted to the over-40s and there is no contact tracing of close contacts in schools you are going to, definitionally, have an awful lot of cases over the next few weeks that the Government isn’t even formally aware of."
Mr McGuirk said that, while you can argue over what the outcome of the new approach may be, "it is absolutely beyond dispute that they have effectively given up on the idea that the spread of this can be stopped or contained."
He said the change in policy is likely based on the fact that, while cases have quadrupled in the past month, the number of patients in ICU has actually fallen.
While the ICU figure may still rise in the coming weeks, Mr McGuirk noted that the international experience of Omicron points to a much milder disease – with no reports of health systems collapsing, even in countries with little or no restriction on everyday life.
He said the big question in the coming weeks will be how long the restrictions on hospitality can be justified.
“If you are somebody who owns a pub or a restaurant and you are looking at this thing being allowed to spread almost uncontrolled in schools and seeing people coming into the country without having to present a negative test, the major question mark in the next couple of weeks will be why are pubs and restaurants still closed?” he said.
“It is OK to catch COVID from your kids but not your friend in the pub – that is the policy the Government seems to be going down the road of.”
He said that, while vaccines are extremely effective at preventing death and severe illness, there is also a major question mark over the vaccine passport.
“This idea now that you have to have three jabs to go to a pub or a restaurant, that to me, no longer seems to make any sense given what we know about how this thing is spreading,” he said.
“The difference between being vaccinated and unvaccinated tends to be very minor in terms of your ability to actually catch and spread it.
“So, there are a whole lot of policy implications here that are going to have to be looked at in the next couple of weeks because of what the Government is doing in terms of allowing this to spread – which I think is the right policy albeit a belated one.”