Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Covid-19: New Measures: Statements
Jennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
My concern is the pressure on the health system. I receive calls from people in Carlow asking what is going to happen. It is five weeks until Christmas. Are we looking at a local lockdown? Will schools close earlier? What will happen with businesses? Should people get their vouchers now? If we can, we need to give people more information about what is happening.
I raised issues with PCR testing in Carlow with the Taoiseach, the HSE and the national immunisation advisory committee. At 9 a.m. today, there was not one PCR test available for anyone in Carlow. I have listened to other Deputies and it seems to be an issue across the country. I have had calls from constituents who had symptoms, could not access a test and had to take time off work. They may not have Covid but they are still losing out on work because they do not know if they have it. I ask that we look at what we can do about people who do not know if they have Covid and whose families may have to stay at home.
Regarding the extension of Covid passes, are we not looking at antigen testing as an option, as is the case in many other countries? It is used in colleges and schools. Why not provide access to other services, such as cinemas or gyms? It could be helpful. Vaccinated people can spread the virus as easily as unvaccinated people, which is important. I recently raised with the Minister the matter of a Carlow business which can play an integral part in tackling the crisis. Other businesses have solutions too. People are worried about whether they are doing enough.
People have a genuine fear about the drug being trialled. They are too scared to get the vaccine. It is not that they are being selfish, but that there is genuine fear. I know we are trying to provide information that the vaccine is safe but young people are still nervous. Another group of people I have spoken to includes those who, through no fault of their own, cannot get the vaccine because of medical conditions. One woman told me the other day that she feels she is being discriminated against. She wants to get the vaccine but cannot do so because of her medical issue. I note the European Commission concluded that fully vaccinated people are less likely to die with Covid-19 than those who are not vaccinated. The higher the vaccination rate, the lower the death rate.
I know the matter of schools has come up. I raised it with the Minister for Education previously. Carbon dioxide monitors need to be supplied to schools. Some record inadequate levels of ventilation. I know the Minister is working on the issue. When I was driving to Dublin today a lady from Carlow rang and told me she had been trying to get a PCR test. She said her kids were at home and were coughing, so they had to be tested because they could not go to school. The school the boy goes to will accept three negative antigen tests to allow him back. The other school, which her daughters attend, requires a PCR test. While she can send her son back to school because his tests were negative, she cannot send her daughters to school because the school is looking for a PCR test, which she cannot get in Carlow. Maybe the Minister could look at this issue. I was delighted to hear the news from the Minister about substitute teachers yesterday.
When I get word about the booster vaccine, I will definitely go for it. I encourage people to get it. A man came into my office who had got his two vaccines. He is well into his 60s and has a medical condition but has not received any word on the booster. I ask the Minister to come back to me about this. My understanding is that people have to be referred for the booster vaccine by their doctors. It is not like before when we went for our vaccines and were all delighted to go. People got a message by text saying they had an appointment at a certain time on a certain date. I understand the position is slightly different for the booster. I am trying to figure this out. Will the Minister clarify the matter? Can I tell people they will get a referral from their doctor and that it is not like it was previously?
We should compliment everyone in the HSE. We have a good Covid-19 vaccination rate. People say the vaccination was really well done. I compliment everyone involved. It is important that we all get the booster. I will go straight away when I get word about it. People are worried about the current setback. We could give them more information. Many people ring me about Christmas asking what they can do. I ask that we keep that in mind. I thank the Minister.