Thursday, 21 October 2021
Covid-19: Reframing the Challenge, Continuing our Recovery and Reconnecting: Statements
We all recognise and understand the great work that has been put in. I pay tribute to everyone in the health services, including those in the vaccination and testing centres, who are still doing their work. They are often forgotten. We have almost become accustomed to the vaccination and testing services being in place but their staff are putting in a huge effort, as are the staff in our hospitals and all the other front-line staff. The immeasurable effort made to fight this virus should not go unrecognised or unmentioned.
Having said that, the position on the proposed opening up this week has resulted in a tinge of disappointment for many. We understand the numbers have gone up, which has had an influence, but the difficulty is that people were given a sense that all restrictions would be removed. Putting that into the public domain left us open to a big problem given the possibility of its not happening. That was the mistake made. I hope the Government will acknowledge it was a mistake to have allowed a sense that all the restrictions would be removed to become the consensus. Everyone thought all the restrictions would be gone in the middle of October. I did not believe that was ever going to happen.
The hospitality sector, which was mentioned already, is under particular pressure because it needs to prepare and to know what restrictions will be in place, how businesses will operate and how they will deal with staff. They have made all their preparations but the reopening was pulled out from under them at the last minute. There is justifiable anger in the sector as to how to deal with that. That said, we all recognise that the virus is something we have no control over unless we do exactly what needs to be done and take the measures seriously.
The vaccination effort that has been made in Ireland has been second to none. There are large numbers of people who have ensured they got the vaccine. We need to consider booster vaccinations for as many sectors as possible and as quickly as possible. I am sure the Government will acknowledge this is a global pandemic and that we need to reach everywhere in the world with vaccines, particularly developing countries, where vaccination levels are very low level.
Those who work from home need more clarity and need to be engaged with more. They have now been told by many of their employers that they need to return to full-time work or go back into the office or an environment that could be quite congested and crowded. There is concern in this regard. It would be useful if we had direct guidance from the NPHET, but eventually from the Government, on the exact position on this. There is some confusion. Some workers are being told they need to go back to work. The workers themselves do not particularly want to and feel they can continue to do their jobs from home quite adequately. They feel they have done a lot of work and made many sacrifices over the pandemic, and they fear returning to the work environment, particularly as they see numbers rising. This is an issue that the Government could deal with as quickly as possible.