Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Covid-19: Reframing the Challenge, Continuing our Recovery and Reconnecting: Statements


4:05 pm

Photo of Joe FlahertyJoe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I will take this opportunity to acknowledge the vaccination team at Newtownforbes in County Longford. I am aware the Minister visited there a number of months ago and that he was greatly impressed with all that he saw. As of 3 p.m. today the centre has administered 27,600 vaccines, and that number is set to rise further as the centre remains open with its walk-in clinic today until 8 p.m. this evening. They also have two further walk-in clinics planned for next week to capitalise on people having some free time during the midterm week. The centre has also confirmed to me this afternoon that booster vaccines have thus far been administered to 208 people in long-term residential settings, and they have also run a series of very successful immunocompromised clinics. I thank the Minister for ensuring that we had a dedicated clinic in the county, and the terms of the lease on the Clonguish GAA venue have now been extended until next March, which is also reassuring. We have had the naysayers saying that Longford would be overlooked, but the Minister assured me this would not happen on his watch, and I am thankful to the Minister for that.

There has been a remarkable effort of camaraderie and professionalism on show at the Longford centre as the staff there have really put country and community first. I would be remiss if I did not single out in particular the efforts of the manager of the centre, Carmel Braden, who has done tremendous work. The people of Longford rightly take tremendous pride in our vaccination campaign, and we are indebted to the staff at the Newtownforbes centre. It is important to acknowledge that here today. I believe the House is in agreement that we are facing into exceptionally difficult and challenging times this winter with regard to healthcare. This will be compounded further by the omnipresent challenge of Covid. I spoke earlier about our pride locally in the very successful vaccination campaign in Longford. I also commend our GPs and their staff who played a Herculean role. Early on in this battle we would have argued for a role for our local pharmacists in the vaccine roll-out, and once they got the call they were not found wanting. Collectively they have administered an incredible 320,000 doses across 2,000 pharmacies nationwide. The events of this week emphasised that Covid is not going away any time soon. The sustained roll-out of the vaccine boosters is critical if we want to stay ahead of this fast-paced and mutating virus. The winter flu is now upon us, with first cases being reported. It will undoubtedly bring further pressure on our GPs, their staff and hospitals. We need to mobilise every battalion available to us in the battle against Covid. There are several pharmacies in County Longford, by way of example, who are capable of rolling out 200 boosters per week. It would be remiss if we did not involve them in the fight. The vaccine booster campaign gets under way in earnest next week. It would be an oversight if we did not include our network of pharmacies. I believe excluding pharmacies will serve only to slow down the vaccination process and will deprive people, and particularly those whose immunity is challenged and who would clearly benefit from the Covid booster shots. It is also critical that the booster vaccines are made available to front-line workers, including pharmacists and their staff, as a matter of priority and particularly in light of the worrying increase in infection numbers in recent days. I hope the Minister will take this on board in the coming days.

I agree with some speakers that there was certainly a degree of mixed messaging around this week's announcement on the continuation of restrictions, but to a point. I emphasise that two weeks ago we expected we would exit restrictions in their entirety. The reality is that this is a very fast-moving and mutating virus.

You cannot go into a bookshop and ask for a book on how to deal with a Covid pandemic because none has been written yet. A lot of this is happening on the hoof. Decisions are being made in this manner and we have to understand and make allowances for that, but there is a worrying narrative emerging in some sections of our community to the effect that retailers and those in the hospitality sector are being reckless in some way and even profit driven. I can say hand on heart that the vast majority of business owners have behaved impeccably and have led by example throughout the pandemic. I include their staff. I have seen pubs and shops right across County Longford and the midlands generally transformed to ensure public health and that the welfare of their staff and patrons would be put front and centre. This has been an incredibly difficult time for retail and hospitality businesses. In Longford, I have seen at first hand the lengths to which they have gone to reopen and put their public health responsibility front and centre. It is worth noting that, since the outset of the pandemic, which is now 18 months ago, nine pubs in the county have closed. The impacts of Covid will be far-reaching, not only in respect of the health service and our personal health but also in respect of our society and economy generally.

I have yet to attend a premises back at home where I have not been asked to produce my Covid certificate. I saw at first hand where a restaurant missed out on doubtlessly much-needed business when it correctly asked a patron for a Covid certificate. The staff were harangued and abused by the individual, who then walked off and decided to post on social media that he or she had been refused a meal, which was entirely untrue. I received emails from people wondering how they could go about complaining about businesses they perceived to be in breach of Covid regulations, including for not asking for Covid certificates. In those instances, speaking to the businesses should probably be the first port of call. It is important we acknowledge that a great effort has been made by retailers and those in the hospitality sector. It should not go unnoticed. I am aware that public health should come first and inform all our decisions, but in the coming days, particularly as we see nightclubs reopening, we need to prioritise as much as possible what will be the needs and nuances of the hospitality and retail sectors over the coming months. These months will be vital for both sectors.


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