Daniel McConnell: Varadkar backed level 5 a fortnight after attacking the proposal

Daniel McConnell: Varadkar backed level 5 a fortnight after attacking the proposal

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar opposed Nphet two weeks ago on a move to Level 5. File picture. 

Nphet hadn’t thought it through, they said.

They, the medics, had sought to bounce government into a lockdown.

The country wasn’t ready for Level 5, they told us.

On Monday, October 5, the night Tánaiste Leo Varadkar went on Claire Byrne Live and monstered Dr Tony Holohan and Nphet, the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland was 38,549.

As of last night, it was 50,993 – a difference of 12,444.

An additional 42 deaths have been reported during that time.

The fundamental question is was the Government right to reject Nphet advice?

Many will argue that on the face of it, given the move to Level 5 by the Government now, it appears not.

It appears the Nphet predictions in their entirety have come to pass.

A weekend of intense deliberations in Government Buildings between health experts and the politicians has taken place.

The medics stood over their recommendation and pushed the point that there was an element of “tone-deafness” among the politicians about what was going on.

The pace of the increase in infection was alarming, they said, and the country was moving quickly to a place that would see its health service overwhelmed.

From being its biggest critic just two weeks ago, Varadkar, according to several ministerial sources, became a strong advocate for Level 5 at a key meeting of ministers on Saturday.

It wasn’t quite a flip-flop, more a staggering u-turn performed at high speed.

Other ministers, including the two finance ministers – Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys voiced concerns about Level 5.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney strongly spoke against the proposed lockdown period of six weeks.

Coveney also queried the 5-kilometre limit and wondered could a higher limit be introduced.

Simon Harris, a known Nphet supporter, suggested three weeks with a review, but this was countered by the argument that such a short period would give “false hope” as a six-week period is deemed necessary to give effect to the measures.

McGrath is said to have fought his corner hard at the Cabinet sub-committee about a “strong level 4 with greater enforcement” but his argument did not win out.

Donohoe, on Saturday, according to several sources, was left “unconvinced” by Nphet’s stance and voiced concern about the economic impact of such a prolonged lockdown on the economy.

However, once Varadkar had thrown his weight behind moving to Level 5, Donohoe stymied his own objections.

Indeed, Coveney is said to have spoken strongly against the Level 5 lockdown for six weeks at Cabinet on Monday night.

Another key concern raised by Education Minister Norma Foley at Cabinet is the fate of the country’s schools and their ability to remain open under Level 5.

She asked that it be made clear that it was Nphet who recommended the schools closed in March but staying open now, sources said.

While those concerns were expressed, at crunch time there were no dissenting voices at Cabinet as to whether to move to Level 5 or not.

The three leaders – Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan – were in total agreement by the time it came to Cabinet, several sources have said.

The Taoiseach made the call of his political life two weeks ago by rejecting the Nphet advice to move to Level 5. Last night, he made another highly significant call which will have far-reaching ramifications for this country.

We know, as part of the plan’s exit strategy, the government has identified a metric of success as getting the reproductive rate below one and keeping it there.

The government is hoping these six weeks of pain will be enough to save our Christmas for families and businesses everywhere.

With no guarantee of success, it is one hell of a risk.

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