Ireland’s chief medical officer has denied claims he was overruled by the Government on a key aspect of the country’s coronavirus recovery plan.
Dr Tony Holohan said reports that Cabinet had rejected National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) advice on the extended cocooning of older people was not true.
Dr Holohan, who chairs the NPHET, also refuted suggestions of tensions between him and ministers.
The senior medic was pressed on media reports claiming he and certain ministers were at odds on elements of the five-phase recovery plan published by the Government on Friday.
Dr Holohan was pressed why a proposed NPHET plan, presented to Cabinet on Friday, stated that shielding of over-70s should continue into the later phases, while the final Government roadmap made no such specific reference.
The chief medical officer said there were textual differences in the two documents but he insisted the Government had accepted all NPHET’s advice on cocooning.
He told the daily Covid-19 briefing that the notion NPHET had given advice to the Government on cocooning and that advice had been rejected “simply isn’t true”.
Dr Holohan also acknowledged that NPHET’s advice in relation to the recovery plan was “conservative and cautious” after being asked whether the country was reopening at too slow a pace.
He warned that if Ireland moved too quickly there was a very real risk that cases of the virus could surge and stricter measures would have to be reintroduced.
“We are going to be conservative about this, we’re going to be cautious about this,” he said.
Ireland’s coronavirus death toll rose to 1,339 on Tuesday after a further 23 deaths were announced.
There were 211 new confirmed cases of the virus announced, bringing the total to 21,983 since the outbreak began.
Earlier on Tuesday, Tanaiste Simon Coveney also rejected claims of tensions between NPHET and the Cabinet, telling RTE the relationship was “fantastic”.
Dr Holohan said he was confused by weekend reports that suggested that NPHET’s briefing to Cabinet on Friday has been fractious.
“That’s not the meeting I was at,” he said.
“Dr Glynn (deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn) and I went and briefed Cabinet, we went through a slide presentation, the A to Z of the disease, we were asked reasonable, sensible questions, we answered them and the meeting ended.
“And then I saw the characterisations of that meeting – I understand why characterisations of things happen in particular ways – as far as I’m concerned I haven’t come across any tension in either any grouping of ministers or individual ministers that we’ve briefed.
“It’s been a perfectly straightforward interaction and I haven’t either experienced any of some of what’s reported or any the kind of pressure being applied to us that is alleged to have informed some of our decisions.
“We’ve been, and I say thankfully in this country, in a position where we’ve been able to do our work, which is to consider the public health issues involved, and to provide the advice to government and for government to make decisions in relation to that, and that’s what’s happened here.
“It hasn’t happened in that way in other jurisdictions.”
Dr Holohan stressed that it was NPHET’s role to give advice, not to make decisions – that, he said, was the role of government.
“I am confident about the relationship,” he added.
“It’s worked well so far, we’ve given advice to the minister (health minister Simon Harris) who brings the advice to government, and we’ve seen government respond to that advice, and we’ll continue to do that as we move through the next phase.”