Varadkar said hospitalisations and deaths across Europe is a fraction of what was the case back in spring. Sasko Lazarov

'Some people are getting a little terrorised': Tánaiste says we should not be obsessing about daily Covid numbers

Leo Varadkar said the publication of daily figures should continue but said more ‘common sense’ needed to be heard now.

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said we should not be obsessing about the number of positive Covid cases that are reported everyday.

His comments comes as a number of doctors have called for an end to the daily reporting of Covid-19 figures, describing them as a “self-perpetuating cycle of misery”.

Varadkar disagrees with the doctors, stating that the daily figures should be published “because the more transparency the better”.

Dr Maitiu O Tuathail, former president of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), said the daily announcement is “causing huge anxiety” and is “utterly meaningless” reports The Irish Times.

No European country makes daily announcements anymore about Covid-19 numbers, according to Dr O Tuathail who has called for the daily briefing to be changed to a comprehensive weekly briefing.

While the Tánaiste said more meaning can be extrapolated from the five-day, seven-day or 14-day figures, it is better to be transparent and continue publishing the daily figures.

Daily figures

However, Varadkar said there also needs to be more explanation about what the case numbers mean.

“We need to maybe not obsess about the number of cases every day. I think some people are getting a little terrorised by that.”

The Tánaiste said there is also a need to hear a bit more “common sense”.

There is a need now to look at the “wider picture” of where we are in the trajectory of the pandemic, he said.

“That means, yes looking at the case numbers, but also looking at the R number, the trajectory of the number of people in hospital, the number of people in ICU, and the number of deaths,” he said.

“I think what we need to explain to people  what case numbers mean. All a case number is is an individual who has had a swab test and tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. That doesn’t mean they’re sick – in fact most people who are testing positive now are people that are asymptomatic… who could pass it on to people… but who wouldn’t even have been tested back in February or March when we were still ramping up the testing and we were only testing people with symptoms,” said the Tánaiste.

Not on the scale of first wave

He said that Ireland and other European countries are seeing a rise in cases, but added the second wave is very different than the first.

The rise in cases is resulting in an increase in hospitalisations, he acknowledged, “but nothing on the scale of what we saw back in the spring”.

“Even in countries like France and Spain where they are seeing record numbers of cases now – higher than where they were in the spring – that is resulting in an increase of hospitalisations and deaths, but a fraction of what was the case back in spring,” he said.

He said this gives him confidence that the lockdown period was used correctly, using the time to learn how to protect the vulnerable and teach people health and safety measures.

“We are seeing a second wave of cases that is not resulting in significant number of deaths,” said Varadkar.

When asked if the government is likely to clash with the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on issues such as reopening the pubs and international travel, Varadkar said the government has disagreed with them before on issues.  

He said the role of NPHET is to advise the government from a purely public health point of view. While he said they have done a really good job so far, it is the government that has to take into account other issues. 

“What the government brings to the table is the wider picture, the bigger picture, the impact on the economy, the impact on families, on peoples’ social lives,” he said.

“NPHET advises, but the government decides and there are many occasions since February and March where we decided to agree with NPHET advice or modify it or not follow it and I think that is going to continue.”

‘Common sense’ approach

Varadkar also paid tribute to Professor Rónán Collins, who appeared on RTÉ’s Prime Time last night.

The professor said we have to accept the fact we have to live with the virus and must get on with our lives. 

Professor Collins said we can’t just assume that the only outcome from the pandemic can be judged on what is the death rate, because society has other factors that it values.

He also said pubs should reopen as it is not about people “lashing into drink” but also about rural communities and rural isolation.

Varadkar said Professor Collins is someone who has “a lot of credibility and also speaks a lot of common sense, and I think we need to hear a bit more of that”. 

On the issue of pubs reopening, Varadkar still would not put a date on it, but said he and the Taoiseach “are one on this”.

“We are both very keen to see pubs open as soon as it is safe to do so,” he said.

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