Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Covid-19: New Measures: Statements
Cathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for their presence here today and for all the work they are doing in leading the Department. More importantly, I pay tribute to all of the front-line health workers. This morning I met the Acting Chairman on the 9.50 a.m. train from Limerick to Dublin. I joined the Cork train at Limerick Junction and I was appalled to see so many people not wearing masks. We have made sacrifices over the last two years. There are people who did not get home to meet their families, such as those who were been living abroad, people who did not spend Christmas with their families and people who could not move more than 2 km from their home at various times. Wearing a mask has never been a sacrifice. What is the big deal about putting two strings behind your ears and wearing a mask for the one hour and 50 minutes you are on a train? It is two fingers to society. It is an affront to our front-line health workers. It is an affront to science. It is a damn right insult to the 5,609 people in Ireland who have mourned the loss of a loved one during the Covid-19 crisis. For God’s sake wear a mask. It is a simple requirement. If you cannot do so for a medical reason, there is a certificate, but get the damned certificate, and do not go on the train from Cork to Limerick or go into shops and put up videos on social media. We see this every evening where people think they can get away with this and this rule does not apply to them and challenging others to confront them. I confronted some people on the train today. I began by handing out masks to a family. I asked them whether they had masks and I took out a bag of a masks that I had in my own bag while travelling here today. That is wrong.
The key to this - and the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, is right – is vaccination. Vaccination and the roll-out booster vaccinations are key. Some 630,000 boosters to date is very good. We must drive on. However, the key messages of mask wearing, 2 m distances, washing your hands and hand sanitising have been lost in society. We need to restamp that point.
I do not agree with the 7% who are unvaccinated. Some of them have medical reasons and that is fine, but some of them have emailed my office to tell me that honey will cure Covid-19 and that you can pour bleach down your throat which President Trump said 18 months ago. That is codswallop. Believe in the science of this. Believe the scientific community globally, which states that vaccinations are what are needed in this. We need to buy into that. That 7% who are unvaccinated are a small cohort of the population but tonight they account for 55% of those in intensive care units, ICUs, all across the country. We need to collectively reflect on that.
We need more extensive use of digital Covid-19 certification. At the moment it is largely used in hospitality and international travel. It should be used everywhere at this point, such as going to a match, going to a local barber and going pretty much everywhere. At the moment, those who are not vaccinated - some have chosen not to be and some are unable to be vaccinated - are largely kept out of that. There is a bit of inequality in all of this. We constantly get emails into our constituency office about this. If we expand the role of digital Covid-19 certification and of antigen testing, we will allow for an extra layer of testing and of assurance for people who are publicly engaged with others. We will also allow those who cannot currently benefit from their local bar or restaurant to benefit from that too. We need to expand the role of antigen testing.
Although this is a debate on Covid-19, we urgently need to get targeted supports back in place for the tourism and hospitality sector. We have seen a 60% drop-off already in bookings coming up to Christmas. I only learned what Black Friday meant a few weeks ago. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Black Friday was the day on which the companies and large shops in America hit the black point. They were back in the profit zone coming to Christmas. They traded without profit for 11 months of the year and they made it into the profit zone of their accounts in the last few weeks of the year. It feels like that for many publicans and hospitality providers in our country. They need supports and some certainty and assurance right now that they will be supported by Government in the bleak weeks and months ahead.
On education, I was delighted to see the Minister for Education, Deputy Norma Foley, take decisive action and take on one of the suggestions I made to deploy third- and fourth-year student teachers into the front line. There is still bit of ambiguity about Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST, teachers. They should be sent back to their base schools to teach in classrooms.
While I do not wear it quite as well as my colleague, Deputy Willie O’Dea, I am sporting a tache for this week. We are addressing the Minister for Health and Minister of State at the Department of Health and it is Movember. I hope to shave this off next week.