A spike in the Delta variant of Covid-19 has led to fresh questions over Government plans to relax pandemic restrictions. But just what is going on?
Why are we talking about this now?
Until recently, the Delta variant accounted for a relatively small percentage of the Covid-19 cases being diagnosed in Ireland – around five per cent. However, on Monday, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said there is a “concerning increase” in transmission of the variant, which is more infectious and resistant to incomplete courses of vaccines. On Tuesday, one coalition source said there was a sense of “deja vu” around, with the Government again faced with the rise of a new variant with increased transmissability, just like at the end of last year.
So is reopening off the cards?
No – or, at least, not yet. The Government has been very clear that as of now, the plan is to reopen indoor dining and drinking on July 5th, and international travel on July 19th. One cabinet source said today that there is “some concern” about Delta, but “not at the level that would halt reopening”. Taoiseach Micheál Martin has also said there are no plans to delay further reopening, and that it is “so far, so good”.
It’s all going to be fine then?
Not necessarily. While some in Government are bullish, there’s definitely an edge of nervousness creeping in as well. There is particular concern about cross-border transmission, with high levels of Delta found in Derry. The Government is anxious to keep to the timetable, but not at any cost. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly was said to have struck a cautious note when updating the cabinet today. Across Government attention is shifting to the next advice due to issue from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet). Multiple sources agree: if they advise against reopening, it will be difficult for the coalition to forge ahead.
What happens next?
All this increases the focus on next week’s Nphet meeting, provisionally scheduled for Thursday, and the cabinet decisions that will follow. The rise in Delta diagnoses doesn’t automatically reverse recent positive momentum. Overall cases are low and the pressure on the hospital system isn’t significant. Our vaccine programme is more reliant on mRNA vaccines which have shown better protection after one dose against Delta. Meanwhile, a more conservative approach to spacing of doses of AstraZeneca and an accelerated rollout of this shot means we should get full AstraZeneca coverage by the end of next month. And, as Leo Varadkar said last week, the Government is unlikely to take Nphet’s advice on restricting travel to the vaccinated, so there remains a chance it could turn down other advice.
But – and there’s always a but – the Government is still haunted by the spectre of the meaningful Christmas. A delay now would help more complete cover among those receiving AstraZeneca, and potentially protect a lot of younger people not yet vaccinated who work in or will be using indoor dining. Any delay would lead to uproar from the hospitality sector, but the Government has been neither shy about providing payments for the sector or living with that backlash as background noise.
There is also a belief among senior sources that notwithstanding the volume of complaints from industry, people in general would accept a slightly slower reopening if it could be proven effective in controlling for a dangerous variant. The fact that this is happening during summer, when outdoor socialising and dining offer plenty of possibilities for people, might also favour a more cautious approach to reopening indoor dining. Meanwhile, the prospect of reopening leading to a surge in infection and perhaps some backsliding – if not a return to full lockdown – would undermine one of the Government’s key undertakings: that what reopens, stays open.
A teenager who killed a dog by kicking it so hard it went above the head of its owner has been jailed for six months.
Josh Henney (19) twice kicked the dog in its underbelly while its owner was speaking with his mother.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that the dog, who was a cross between a Jack Russell Terrier and a Yorkshire Terrier, was named Sam and was approximately 10 months old at the time.
Henney of North William Street, Dublin City centre, pleaded guilty to killing a protected animal at his address on March 23rd, 2020. He has 36 previous convictions and is currently serving a sentence of two years with the final six months suspended for an offence of violent disorder.
Garda Adam McGrane told Dara Hayes BL, prosecuting, that on the date in question, the injured party was on North William Street with her dog and was speaking with Henney’s mother.
Gda McGrane said Henney was having an argument with his mother and was shouting from a window. Henney then came out of the flat and told the injured party to “f**k off out of here and mind your own business”.
The garda said Henney told the woman that he would “f**king kill your dog”. Henney then took a run up of around two metres and kicked the dog in their underbelly. The dog was kicked so hard it went above the head their owner.
Henney walked away, then took a second run at the dog and kicked the dog again in their underbelly. The dog’s breathing was laboured following the second kick and saliva with blood was coming from their mouth.
The dog, which could not walk or drink, was carried by their owner to a veterinary practice and was still alive upon arrival. The dog was put under anaesthetic, but died while undergoing treatment.
Multiple fractures and fissures
The court heard that Dr Alan Wolfe, who performed the autopsy on the dog, found multiple fractures and fissures to the dog’s liver. Dr Wolfe found all of the injuries were consistent with the dog dying of blood loss due to acute trauma.
Mr Hayes told the court that the injured party in the case has no children and told gardaí that the dog was like family to her and went with her wherever she went.
Gda McGrane agreed with Cathal McGreal BL, defending, that his client told gardaí he had lost his temper and did not really remember what happened. He agreed the accused told gardaí he had not been able to sleep remembering the dog screaming and wished to apologise for what he did.
Mr McGreal said his client very much regrets what he did. He said his client claims he never told the victim that he would kill the dog.
Counsel said his client’s father was shot in Malaga in front of Henney when he was aged 14. He said that his client told a psychologist that the offence was a “horrible thing to do” and that he wants to get help so he does not do anything like that again.
Mr McGreal said his client’s mother smoked heroin and his client caught her doing so as a child. He said the presence of the injured party was a “triggering factor” and that there was “a heroin taking relationship going on”.
Counsel said there is no gainsaying that what his client did but he is sorry for it and it haunts him.
On Tuesday Judge Melanie Greally Judge Greally imposed a one year prison sentence with the final six months suspended on strict conditions including that Henney engage with the Probation Service for 12 months upon his release from prison. This sentence is to be consecutive to the term he is currently serving for violent disorder.
She said the anger and aggression was carried out on the dog, when it was the dog’s owner that was “the subject of his anger”.
Judge Greally accepted that Henney was “extremely ashamed and remorseful for his actions” and has now expressed himself as young man who wants to live a normal life. “He has a stable relationship and is applying himself well in prison,” she noted.
She acknowledged that the report prepared by the Probation Service concluded that Henney was a vulnerable young man who would benefit from probation supervision upon his release from prison.
Alec Baldwin once borrowed the words of one of the acting colleagues he admires the most – “the incredibly intelligent and wise Warren Beatty” – to explain his ongoing image problems. “Your problem is a very basic one, and it’s very common to actors. And that’s when we step in front of a camera, we feel the need to make it into a moment. This instinct, even unconsciously, is to make the exchange in front of the camera a dramatic one,” Beatty said.
Last Thursday, on the set of the movie Rust, of which Baldwin is the star and a producer, that moment could not have been more dramatic. It was Baldwin who pulled the trigger on a prop firearm that killed the Ukrainian director of photography, 43-year-old Halyna Hutchins, and wounded the movie’s director, 48-year-old Joel Souza. The tragic incident left Baldwin speechless for several hours until he expressed his “shock and sadness,” offering his help and support to Hutchins’ family and stating that he was “fully cooperating” with the police investigation into the accident. A social media post from a few days earlier in which he was kitted out in his cowboy gear and covered in blood in character for Rust was removed from his accounts.
Scandal seems to follow Alec Baldwin around, whether or not he is looking for that drama to which Beatty alluded. The eldest of six siblings of a middle-class Catholic family of Irish descent, the four Baldwin brothers are all involved in show business, although they couldn’t be much different from one another. Daniel has had problems with drugs. Stephen is currently involved with an Evangelical church and his political views are inclined toward conservatism. The second-youngest, William described his brother as someone who always has something “to fucking whine about,” according toThe New Yorker. Alec is the eldest and the most disciplined, but also the one who protected the other brothers from bullies as he was the most combative. He went to school with the notion of becoming the president of the United States, but on recognizing he had little chance of achieving that goal he enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York, graduating many years later.
His career could have panned out like Al Pacino’s or Jack Nicholson’s, actors who he looked up to, but Baldwin’s generation was not the same. Perhaps neither was his talent, and certainly, the world of movies had changed. In 1992, Baldwin ensured that he would be associated with his idols when he starred with Jessica Lange in a Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, which three years later would be turned into a television movie with Baldwin and Lange reprising their roles for the small screen. Not only did Baldwin receive a Tony nomination for his Broadway performance, he also drew favorable comparisons to legendary actor Marlon Brando, who starred in the stage production and the 1951 movie version. Around this time Baldwin was also landing meaty screen roles, including that of Jack Ryan opposite Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October.
But as time progressed, Baldwin’s name was more frequently heard in connection to his social life and scandals than for his stage or screen performances. His marriage to actor Kim Basinger, who he met in 1991 while filming The Marrying Man, ended acrimoniously, and Baldwin’s relationship with the couple’s daughter, Ireland, has often been fractious. In 2007, a voicemail message the actor left for Ireland, who was 11 at the time, caused a sensation due to Baldwin’s use of not very fatherly language, during an ongoing spat with Basinger following their 2002 divorce.
Then there is the other Alec Baldwin, described by the actor himself as “bitter, defensive, and more misanthropic than I care to admit,” in an open letter to Vulture magazine in 2014 titled Good-bye, Public Life. At that time Baldwin had forged a reputation as a violent, homophobic egocentric following several incidents aired in the media. And, of course, from his own mouth. Even so, he managed to resurrect his career in the most surprising way imaginable: by making fun of himself.
Baldwin’s portrayal of the absurd and conceited television executive Jack Donaghy across seven seasons of 30 Rock (2006-13), a character inspired by Baldwin himself, earned back his public popularity and landed the actor back-to-back Primetime Emmy Awards in 2007 and 2008 and three Golden Globes. In 2011, he started a new chapter in his personal life with his current wife, Hilaria Baldwin, with whom he has six children. But as one of his closest friends, Lorne Michaels, producer of Saturday Night Live where Baldwin has received plaudits for his impersonations of former US president Donald Trump, once said: “Everything would be better if you were able to enjoy what you have.”
Baldwin’s altercations – mostly verbal, occasionally physical – with the paparazzi or anyone who in the actor’s opinion has violated his privacy have been frequent, including on productions on which he has worked. In 2013, the actor Shia LaBeouf was fired from the Broadway theatre production of Orphans when Baldwin said: “Either he goes or I do.” Years earlier an actress left another play Baldwin was working on by leaving a written note stating that she feared for her “physical, mental and artistic” safety.
Every one of Baldwin’s reinventions seems inexorably to be followed by another fall from grace. On the one hand, there is the Baldwin who has stated on several occasions that he intends to withdraw from public life, and on the other the Baldwin who is obsessed with social media, writing a tweet for every occasion. Many of these posts have cost the actor, such as in 2017 when he commented on a video of a suspect being fatally shot by police: “I wonder how it must feel to wrongfully kill someone…”
There are still unanswered questions surrounding the death of Halyna Hutchins. The investigation has not disclosed whether the firearm was discharged accidentally or if Baldwin was aiming it at the time, although the transcript of a call to the emergency services appears to indicate it happened during a rehearsal. As of yet, no charges have been filed against Baldwin but it is unknown if this may yet occur at a later date. A statement taken from the assistant director states that Baldwin was told by crew members that the gun was not loaded. Many observers are wondering if Rust will be completed, if the project will be abandoned. And many more are asking the same about Baldwin: will he be able to find a way back from this latest dramatic moment?