Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Covid-19: New Measures: Statements
Pádraig O'Sullivan (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
I would like to also raise the issue of PCR testing. Undoubtedly, there is a massive surge in demand at the moment and there are difficulties in catering for that demand. I would specifically like to ask the Minister about the possibility of opening an additional PCR test centre in Cork Airport. The local media was reporting recently that RocDoc is operating there at the moment and there were reports the HSE was going to avail of that facility in the interim. If the Minister could clarify that in his closing statement or afterwards, I would appreciate it. There is undoubtedly the demand.
In my home town of Glanmire, we have a PCR test centre in St. Stephen's Hospital. At the moment, many people who avail of the PCR test there are under the impression that it is a drive-through centre but it is not. If there is a possibility that the HSE could advertise that better or, in an ideal world, that the PCR test centre could be converted into a drive-through centre, that needs to be considered because there is ample space on-site to ensure it can be done.
I want to comment on a point made by Deputy Cathal Crowe earlier in regard to mask wearing because he hit the nail on the head. I have noticed it. While I know other Deputies tried to contradict him, I have definitely noticed in various settings that mask wearing is slipping. We need a proper and concerted effort to double down on that and to make sure people continue to do the basics right, and we can all do the basics. Certain people have made sacrifices and continue to do so but, as Deputy Crowe alluded to earlier, the very least anybody can do is wash their hands and wear a mask.
I have made the case to the Minister previously in regard to patients who, for one reason or another, cannot avail of a vaccine or who have received the first dose and, because of a reaction they had, are receiving medical advice to not chance taking a second dose. I would particularly make the case for patients who suffer from myocarditis. I ask that an exception is made for them in terms of Covid certification because many of those patients would have been under the impression initially that the Covid certification was going to end back in October or November. Obviously, that did not happen and, going forward, I am not sure if they can indefinitely be excluded from certain aspects of a normal functioning society. Again, I ask the Minister to talk to the CMO and the HSE in that regard.
I want to raise the issue of the Covid tracker app, which is a fantastic tool if utilised correctly. I know that, in the early stages, when I downloaded that app, I could see how many people had registered and logged in from day to day to say they had no symptoms or whatever the case may be. Thinking back over the months, there were 300,000 to 400,000 people logging in daily to use it. I checked before I came into the House today and it is at 78,000 so, clearly, the use of that app is not being maximised. It is something that should be constantly reviewed. Many people on the Opposition benches will go on about mixed messaging and lack of communication. The Covid tracker app is a perfect way for all people in society to access basic information, whether it is to advise people of PCR testing availability in their locality, to remind people of how to avail of and access antigen testing correctly or to advise people of a spike in their local area. I believe it is underutilised and that is reflected in the number who log in or do not log in every day. As I said, in the beginning, there were hundreds of thousands logging in and only 78,000 today, so it is clearly underutilised.
I have a final point on antigen testing, which is something I have spoken about for the best part of a year and a half. I am disappointed to see its slow roll-out and there is no point in me denying that. However, it is a tool. It is not there to supplement PCR and we all know that. We are not stupid. At the same time, we need to advise people how to use it correctly. If people are symptomatic, whether it requires an information campaign, information going on an app or adverts on the television or radio, we need to advise people it is there and should be utilised.
Antigen tests should be free of charge in order to get them to people and to get people using them. It was referenced earlier that companies in meat factories and on the construction site of the national children's hospital have been using antigen testing with their employees three, four or five times per week. If antigen testing can work in those settings then I do not see why the population at large cannot use it as well. If we inform them how to best utilise it then the more we test the more effective and accurate it will be. That will be better for all of us in the ongoing fight with Covid.