Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Covid-19: New Measures: Statements
Colm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
I thank the Minister for dealing with this issue. We are coming from a situation where the Health Protection Surveillance Centre was yesterday notified of 3,666 confirmed cases of Covid-19. That gives a seven-day average of over 4,400 cases per day. We have had over 630 patients in hospital with over 130 of those in ICU. This is the challenge we face. Since Covid was first identified in Ireland we have had over 5,600 deaths so it is a huge challenge for all of us and we all have a part to play.
I want to thank all those who have been involved in the healthcare sector. In the last week alone over 210,000 lab tests were completed and we have completed over 600,000 booster vaccinations. We have made good progress with the over-80s and I understand that the vast majority of those should have received their booster by the end of this week. There is some confusion about the over-60s and over-70s. Full clarification needs to be provided on the roll-out of the booster vaccine for them because there seems to be a situation where people are not sure whether they will be notified, when they will be notified and the timeline for their boosters. It is important that we get the vast majority of those people vaccinated as early as possible.
I am also concerned about the delay that occurred in the vaccination of front-line hospital staff. If that needs to be expedited then every effort should be made to ensure that every person who is working in the healthcare sector, whether it is in a nursing home, a care centre or a hospital, is provided with the booster vaccine. There is also a group that we can easily lose sight of, namely, people who are in facilities for people with disabilities and in day care centres. I am particularly thinking of the Cope Foundation facility in Cork, which caters for over 1,500 people, both residential and day care. It is important that we give priority to those centres and complete the vaccinations there as soon as possible. I know we are increasing capacity in the vaccination centres and that needs to be prioritised. My understanding is that the target is to have the capacity to administer over 160,000 vaccines per week and that is something we need to fast-track.
I want to ask about the use of antiviral medicines. I understand that in clinical trials it has been found that the use of antiviral medicine can reduce hospitalisation by 50%. Medication can be prescribed to those with positive Covid tests and it is taken at home over five days. I understand the European Medicines Agency, EMA, has fast-tracked its approvals process for this medicine. Last week, the EMA announced that it would work with national bodies, including the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, in Ireland, to ensure early access to the drug is provided. There are two ways of ensuring supply of this medicine. There could be a joint procurement arrangement with the European Commission, similar to how we procured vaccines and then there is the national supply purchase arrangement. Already, more than a dozen countries, including the UK, the US, France, Australia and New Zealand, have signed their own national agreements. I am raising this at this stage because it is about supply. If we delay in entering into an arrangement on the provision of this medication we may then have a challenge in getting supply. This is something we need to work on at the earliest possible date.
I want to raise the issue of working with the key stakeholders in the medical area, namely, GPs. I have raised this with Paul Reid at the Committee on Health in relation to the Cork area. For instance, in Cork city I understand that recently, there was only one GP on call with SouthDoc one night. I am concerned that this has occurred because we have to examine what happens in such a scenario. One might say that people should wait until the morning but if one has a sick child and cannot get access to a GP, the immediate reaction is to go to an accident and emergency department, which puts more pressure on our hospital services. I ask that there would be further engagement with the key stakeholders and with GPs especially in order that we can make sure that we have people available and that people do not feel the need to go into an accident and emergency department when they can be treated at home. We need to do a lot more work in that area.
A lot of good work has been done in recent months but we have a major challenge before us. It is important that we do everything possible to get the message out there that we all have a part to play and that people can make their contribution, whether that is in hygiene and handwashing, using masks or trying to avoid large numbers congregating because this virus spreads so easily. We need to get that message out more. We do not want to have a lockdown again but we need to ensure we get everyone on board in getting that message across over the next week or two.