Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

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


4:15 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats) | Oireachtas source

What is happening regarding Covid is very disappointing. It is a genuine setback for individuals, families and the country generally. The starting point at this stage should be determining why we are in the situation we are in and why the numbers are going out of control and trending so high, given that we have had a really successful vaccination programme.

It is important to note the points that were made by NPHET in its letter. It states that, in a pessimistic scenario, there will be 800 to 1,000 in hospital by late November, 150 to 200 of whom will require intensive care. It expects 2,000 new admissions to hospital and more than 300 admissions to intensive care units between now and the end of the year. It states very clearly that since early October, case counts have been following the pessimistic scenario. On the basis of the studies that have been done and NPHET's assessment, we are in the pessimistic scenario. That means a more than twofold increase in the number in hospital with Covid and a doubling of the number in intensive care. All our hospitals are at capacity. The NPHET letter is painting a dire picture for the health service. Questions arise as a result that the Minister needs to answer.

In many ways, this should be a questions and answers session, rather than statements. The first question is why, given that we have one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, if not the world, and we have had the longest lockdown in Europe, we now have one of the highest rates of the virus. Can the Minister explain that? Can anybody in NPHET or elsewhere explain it? There is supposition in respect of some of it and possible theories being put forward but we do not have anything definite regarding why this is happening. Although we have figures on a geographical basis in terms of local electoral areas, we are not getting any of the kind of qualitative data we used to get regarding how these outbreaks are occurring, where the places of transmission are, why the outbreaks are happening and what are the super-spreader events. Is that information available somewhere? Have the public health doctors gathered that qualitative information? Is it just that we are not hearing it? If we want to respond to this surge, we need to have that kind of information to know what should be done.

Another question that arises is what exactly we are going to do to reverse the trajectory of cases. It is going only one way at the moment, in a very concerning trajectory. What exactly is going to be done to bend that curve, as we used to say last year? How are the figures going to be brought down? I am not hearing anything from the Government in respect of how that will happen. The figures are going up significantly across the board and society is opening up more. What is likely to happen then? What are the projections? Does the Minister accept the projections set out in the letter from NPHET? It points to a pretty dire situation in hospitals. It is all very well for the Taoiseach and others in government to tell us that it is down to individual responsibility and one has to act responsibly. Of course, people have to act responsibly. The vast majority of people are actually doing that and have worked really hard at it, but the Government has a serious responsibility as well.

Let us look at the mitigating measures the Government should be bringing in and using. The whole issue of ventilation was hardly mentioned at all. There was a measly allocation of CO2 monitors to schools, but there was no advice or direction in that regard and no investment in air purification systems. Equally, there has been no advice, direction or requirements in respect of ventilation for workplaces or hospitality. It is significantly remiss of the Government to ignore that because we have known for a long time that the virus is airborne.

I refer to antigen testing. An expert report published today confirms what we were told by Mark Ferguson in his expert report last March. Why has there not been wider usage of antigen testing? Why has the Government not provided advice and direction to people on the use of antigen tests? Why is it not setting any standards in respect of antigen tests?

Obviously, there is also the issue of enforcement. Covid certificates are fine and it is a good idea that they are used, but why are they not being enforced properly? The Minister knows from his own figures that one third of establishments that were checked were not enforcing Covid certificates. What about all the other settings? What about travel? We heard from the CMO that when he was coming home from holidays last week, he was not asked to produce any documentation at Dublin Airport. Other people have had the same experience. Anecdotally, it is being said all over the place.

Ventilation, the wider use of antigen testing and proper enforcement are the responsibilities of the Government. They are not anything that individuals can do. They are the responsibilities of the Government and, to a large extent, the failure to deal with those three key areas are significant contributory factors to the position we are in today.


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