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OPINION – DR MICHAEL DONNELLY: Pandemic lockdown laws the envy of the Special Powers Act

EVIDENCE: Paul Bradshaw told the Health Committee Junior Ministers from the Executive Office should attend committee to take questions. EVIDENCE: Paul Bradshaw told the Health Committee Junior Ministers from the Executive Office should attend committee to take questions.
By Dr Michael Donnelly

In the week when Liverpool won the Premiership and northern Greens may help elect a rotating Taoiseach, the health minister appointed a management consultant to investigate the RQIA, our care homes regulator. Nine RQIA board members resigned after claiming they were not consulted on key decisions taken during the coronavirus pandemic.

The person appointed to carry out a review of the resignation storm at the RQIA is David Nicholl who has carried out other work training health board members through this company On Board Training and Consultancy. It would have been better for public confidence if the review ordered by the Minister were to have been headed by someone with no connection to the health service. 

Meanwhile, Sammy Wilson was concerned about customs checks at Larne and had reassurance from Boris that these were other — and won’t yet be called An Custam or featured on TV ‘Stop and Search’.

Certainly, constructive ambiguity has returned with the pandemic. There is, for example, much relief from the BBC  that we seem to have gotten through it by probably sacrificing 800 of our nearest and dearest by protecting the HSC, our Health and Social Care Service though some think they are still in the NHS.

Nigel McMahon, Chief Environmental Officer,  attended the Health Committee at Stormont on Thursday  to give guidance on statutory regulations all downloaded from Pandemic Influenza (Emergency Provisions) Act 2020, the envy of the Special Powers Act.

There were six changes reducing the quarantine and there were concerns expressed on the value of R, the infectivity rate not that we have sufficiently robust test and track  epidemiological information to calculate it meaningfully.

Pam Cameron (Cttee Deputy Chair, DUP) was concerned as to when hairdressers would be opening and Órlaithí Flynn (SF) asked about services for gamblers and others addicted. Paula Bradshaw (Alliance) asked about holiday visitors and was told six would be permitted.

Colin McGrath (SDLP) asked about the science that was being followed and when the committee would see it. Alan Chambers (UUP) felt it was unfair to ask questions of officials and that Junior Ministers should attend to answer their questions.

Gerry Carroll (PBP) felt there were many in Ireland and on Independent SAGE who did not agree with the government approach and that he felt that too much was being done to please big business.

Queries were raised as to if the regulations could be challenged and the Chair wondered how things were on the border between Aughnacloy and Emyvale. 

Pat Sheehan (SF) mentioned the Chief Scientific Officer’s view on face masks which he thought was no more than opinion and that a further surge should be discussed. The Chief Scientific Advisor, he said, had told committee that he was concerned to find, while shopping, that he was the only one wearing a face mask. Subsequently, he had heard the Chief Scientific Advisor on the radio saying warning face coverings could significantly halt the spread of Covid-19. “If the Chief Scientific Officer is saying the wearing of face masks would significantly stop the transmission of the virus, then we need to be talking about it..especially in the context of all these relaxations.” He added that if the “crazy” behaviour seen on British beaches was repeated here, “then make no mistake about it, there is going to be a second surge.”

It was stated that the Minister and Chief Medical Officer would attend on Tuesday.

The committee went on to hear from dentists who were suffering and losing patients to the rest of Ireland without knowing when the end would come and it was felt that the Department of Health was not interested in HSC dentistry.

Dr Michael Donnelly MB, BCh, BAO is a clinical epidemiologist.

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