Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Covid-19: New Measures: Statements
Imelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
I thank the Minister.
Also, the booster jab regime has been far too slow. As others have said, we need to speed it up. There is confusion among some groups. When will those who got the Janssen vaccine get the booster? They should have been given one three months after their vaccine. Many of them were vaccinated over six months ago and there is no sign of a booster yet. There is concern amongst this group of waning immunity and a lack of protection from the virus. Everyone will need a booster jab eventually. Where is the plan?
Also, some pharmacists are saying that they are very confused. They do not know what is going on yet. They have heard nothing. Maybe the Minister can clarify that too. The same goes for antigen testing. It is November 2021 and there is still no decision on subsidising antigen tests. Of course, they should be free but the Government cannot seem to even organise a subsidy.
On top of that, the hospitality sector is taking the brunt of this, with new restrictions being imposed in recent weeks. The sector has really suffered in the past year and a half. Christmas parties, concerts and other social events for the month of December have been cancelled due to the surge. Venues are closing or operating at reduced capacity. Staff are the ones who pay the price yet the Government is ploughing ahead with cuts to the employment wage subsidy scheme and the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. People in this sector will not survive without these payments.
Most sectors are back at work - many of them from home - but tourism and hospitality, entertainment, music and performers cannot work from home and are still affected by restrictions and the surge in cases. There are fewer sectors affected this time around and the ones that are must be supported. I note that the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, did not oppose the cuts. She went along with the reduction of the payments despite it affecting thousands of workers in sectors under her remit. The Government has to prioritise these cohorts and recognise that now is not the time for cuts for those working in tourism, hospitality, entertainment, such as musicians, and all the other badly-affected sectors.
The Minister cannot have it both ways. If he is telling people to cut their social contacts and not to go out as much, he has to subsidise the workers and businesses that are being directly affected by that policy. The real result of all of this poor planning is the outrageous pressure on the health service and I do not need to go into the cause of that in the policies over the years.