Thursday, 25 February 2021
Health (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
This Bill is long overdue. It has been nine months since NPHET recommended putting restrictions in place to limit travel into this country, as my colleagues have stated. The Government sat on its hands and did nothing, allowing dangerous variants into the country. The Government must accept Sinn Féin’s amendment to introduce mandatory quarantining for all non-essential travel from all countries, not just an obscure list of mostly African countries. I would like to know what criteria were used to decide on that list. We owe it to everyone, especially our older people and those with underlying conditions who have stayed in their homes for almost a year now, to get this right.
There are many concerns about this legislation. The logic of the published list of countries is non-existent. We are proposing to quarantine travellers from African countries, many of which have had fewer than 10,000 cases of Covid-19 in total. Burundi has had a total of 2,041 cases and is 178th in the world for Covid cases. The Seychelles have had 2,514 cases and are 172nd in the world, while eSwatini has had 17,000 cases and is 124th in the world. It is a small country of just over a million people in southern Africa, beside Mozambique. I wonder how many people from eSwatini will not travel to Ireland because of mandatory quarantining. Ireland's total number of cases, at almost 217,000, is more than 20 times that of the average African country. Meanwhile, we are allowing travellers in from Britain, which has had almost 20 times more cases than Ireland, and the United States, which has had 133 times more. According to figures released by the Department of Health, around half of those arriving into the country by aeroplane at the end of last month were doing so for what were deemed to be non-essential reasons.
People are worried about these new variants, especially due to reports that they spread more quickly and may be resistant to vaccines.
While speaking about vaccines, I must mention that the only public vaccination centre in County Kildare is in Punchestown. County Kildare has a population of almost 250,000 and it is the fifth biggest local authority area in the State. We need another vaccination centre, one that is on a public transport route and it needs to be central.
We still do not have mandatory PCR testing for people travelling into Ireland; it is only advisory. This is not good enough. Ordinary people are sacrificing so much to beat this virus. People's lives are on hold, all in an effort to stop the spread, and they are being let down by this Government in that it will not make the right decision. We need to ensure there are adequate human rights protections and mental health supports in place for those who will enter mandatory quarantine. I hope the premises to be used for quarantine have been properly informed. We need to ensure we do not see a repeat of last week's situation, where the Seven Oaks Hotel in Carlow had not been fully informed that it was to be a vaccination centre and when this was pointed out, it was dropped from the plan.
We need clarity from the Government around what criteria will lead to a reduction in restrictions. What levels of cases, vaccinations and R number are required in order that we can drop down a level? Everyone is confused and hanging on the every word of Ministers in interviews. We are becoming more confused and angry as time goes by. We need to see that the plan is not being made up as we go along. We need the Government to share it with us, inclusive of the data that will tell us when we can see light at the end of the tunnel. I am asking the Minister to do this.