Thursday, 25 February 2021
Health (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I will take up where Deputy Mattie McGrath left off because there was much parish pump politics there about the daoine óga. A total of 4,237 people have died over the past 12 months. This Sunday marks the anniversary of the first case of Covid. This time last year, I used to turn off my television and radio when I heard about the Covid pandemic because it was happening in a province in China. Then, like a bolt of lightning, it swept across Europe and the wider world and it reached our island. In the past year, 4,237 people have lost their lives as a result of this pandemic. I have not enjoyed anything that we have done here over the past 12 months in the context of decision-making, lockdowns and all the policies that have been rolled out by Government and those who support it. I have not enjoyed lockdown or any measure that has restricted civil liberties or resulted in an action that has inhibited how we live our normal lives. Much of what we have done has been necessary to save lives, however. We saw in Great Britain, just across the water from us, how there was a phase of denial for five or six weeks early on following onset of Covid and how this led to a dramatic upward trajectory in the number of deaths. More than 120,000 people have died in Britain.
I want to address some of the elements of the legislation we are debating. As matters stand, the quarantine will relate to people coming here from 20 countries but there is scope for the number to increase. The position will be closely monitored by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. It is important that we look at current and up-to-date data at all times when making decisions in this regard. We have heard from NPHET and the health experts, who have guided us through all phases of this, that we are not configured as a nation to have a zero Covid policy. We are ahead of many European countries in bringing forward this legislation.
There are things that I think we need to look as a matter of urgency in tandem with everything else that is before the House today. PCR testing will be a built-in feature of the system being rolled out under this legislation. The cost of a PCR test varies greatly across the European Union and the rest of Europe. In North Macedonia, the cost of a PCR test is €35 but it is between €120 and €150 in Ireland. It is the same test. It is the gold standard in determining if one has Covid or not, yet the cost varies significantly.
The backlog of mammograms and other health screening tests was addressed on "Morning Ireland" for a considerable time earlier. For every person detected with breast cancer, 90 or more have gone through the screening system in good health. Their health is not overly jeopardised, yet many are waiting to be screened to rule out having breast cancer. Every resource needs to be thrown behind that.
There is logic to the 5 km limit and I know that it is subject to review on 5 April, but many people tell me that it is mind-numbing. The reality is that there is so much shut down, including shops, retail, hospitality, etc., that there is little to do when one leaves one's home and drives across the country. It can be mind-numbing, especially in rural Ireland, to drive two or three crossroads away from one's home and have to turn around and go back again. That should remain subject to review but this legislation is important.