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Ireland's Covid measures consistently less restrictive than majority wanted – ESRI

‘Overwhelming majority’ have supported public health measures and would have preferred them to be more restrictive.

IRELAND’S COVID-19 CONTROL measures have been consistently less restrictive than the majority public opinion wanted, an Oireachtas committee will hear today.

Behavioural economist Professor Pete Lunn, who tracks public behaviour for the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), will tell the justice committee that the “overwhelming majority” of the population supported the public health measures and would have preferred them to be more, not less, restrictive.

martin-varad-ryan-glynn Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar, Minister Eamon Ryan and Dr Ronan Glynn, Deputy CMO following a joint press conference at Government Buildings. Source: Julien Behal Photography/RollingNews.ie

“I have made this point repeatedly and demonstrated it via multiple pieces of data-analysis, but I continue to find that it comes a surprise to many,” Professor Lunn will say in his opening statement to the committee.

He will add that research revealed that the proportion of people who felt the official response to the pandemic was too extreme never climbed above 10% last year.

“Restricting the rights of an unwilling minority is not necessarily justified by the size of the majority in favour,” Lunn said.

But it is important to recognise that the overwhelming majority of the Irish population supported the public health restrictions and throughout most of the pandemic so far, would have preferred them to be more not less restrictive.

Professor Lunn will note that this remained true prior to Christmas, when research indicated that average public opinion favoured a less liberal easing of restrictions than the government implemented.

During the pandemic, the ESRI has supplied evidence and advice to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Health, the HSE and Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

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Professor Lunn’s statement adds that ESRI research at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak indicated that, in contrast with advice given in the UK, public tolerance for restrictions could be “high and enduring”.

“I do not know whether this evidence influenced decisions, but it supported rapid initial implementation of strict public health measures,” he will state.

In my view, this policy and high adherence to the measures saved thousands of lives and is the main reason that the death toll per person is lower in Ireland than in most of our European neighbours.

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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