Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Covid-19: New Measures: Statements


6:27 pm

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)

I welcome the opportunity to speak. Ireland had its first official case of Covid in late February 2020. Almost 20 months later, we are still fighting this pandemic. Case numbers have rocketed in recent weeks. As we get closer to Christmas, many people and businesses are unsure of what is going to happen. Unfortunately, the message from the Government is not clear. To be honest, it is creating a situation where people are speculating on what is likely to happen next.

We hear members of NPHET making statements daily in the media that appear to be at odds with what Government Ministers are saying. This is adding to the worry of people and businesses in general. We have had a number of lockdowns, but we are back at a point where case numbers are increasing at an alarming rate and hospital cases are steadily rising. We have been led to believe that Ireland has one of the best records on vaccination in the world, yet our case numbers do not reflect that. Surely the Government must learn from previous actions taken and realise that something different needs to be done.

I do not have the answer to solving this crisis, and nor does any Member of this House. We must look to other countries that have managed to contain the virus to see what has been done differently. Simply locking down society is not the answer. We have tried that and each and every time we have returned to the position in which we now find ourselves.

It is important that this issue not be used as a political football by people trying to get publicity. We must all work together, along with the public health advisory team, to ensure Covid is beaten once and for all. My greatest fear in all of this is what is coming down the road for health services. How many people have had medical appointments cancelled as a result of the pandemic? How many people have had diagnoses of serious medical conditions such as cancer missed because of a cancelled appointment? Unfortunately, the answers will only become clear over the next number of years. I hope I am wrong in this but I fear what is coming next. This week, we heard of an organ transplant operation being cancelled because of issues in the health system arising out of the Covid crisis. How many more life-saving and critical medical procedures were cancelled for the same reason?

The public are very weary. People are weary of all the restrictions they have faced over the past 20-odd months. They are weary because they do not know what is happening from one day to another. I have generally supported the Government in its handling of the pandemic. This was a situation nobody could have predicted and there was no roadmap for it. However, having had 20 months to deal with the situation, it still seems like the Government does not to know what to do next. I call on the Government and the Taoiseach to lead this country by bringing forward a roadmap that clearly shows how we can beat the pandemic. The public needs to be given assurances that the measures that are proposed will work if implemented. I know from speaking to many of my constituents in Dundalk and the surrounding area that people want to know how we can get ourselves free from this pandemic. The roadmap needs to be clear and simple, with a clear timeline of implementation. We cannot continue with a situation where there are different messages coming from all parties on almost a daily basis.

To reiterate, we need a clear and precise roadmap. The Tánaiste said recently that the implementation of strict measures cannot be ruled out. The Minister for Transport said a final decision will be made down the line. The Minister for Health has said our situation is not unique and he is monitoring it closely. The Taoiseach stated that the current surge is a dramatic reminder of what this virus can do and that continuous progress in a journey to normal conditions is not inevitable. NPHET has indicated that further measures may be required but it has not specified what measures are needed. I listened to Dr. Ronan Glynn's statement yesterday in which he gave an update on where we are. He said the Delta variant has increased dramatically over the past four weeks, from 5% of cases in June to approximately 70% now. It is twice as transmissible as the variant we were dealing with this time last year. Over the past two weeks, our 14-day incidence rate has increased by 30%, with the five-day average of cases rising from just over 300 to 500 per day. The positive test rate has increased despite the higher numbers attending test centres.

As I said, the measures introduced must be clear and concise and we must have a roadmap. I urge the Government and NPHET to work on a clear plan that will get the country free from this virus. It is not a simple task but we can look to the countries that have been successful, see what they have done and implement the same measures. Simply putting the country into another lockdown is not right. It has not worked on the three previous occasions and we cannot expect it to work now. We deserve to know what is happening and to have an end to speculation. I do not want to walk down the street in Dundalk or Drogheda and have people asking me whether such-and-such is happening on 13 December or 20 December. We need to stop the speculation and get a roadmap in place. I am glad to see the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, is back in the Chamber. We need a roadmap that is precise and we all need to be speaking the same language.

Many Deputies referred to PCR tests not being available in 21 counties. That is the case in the two largest towns in my home county, Louth. The Minister gave a commitment earlier that a pop-up centre will be set up in the area. There are 21 counties in this situation and we know prevention is the best cure. It is very important that we acknowledge that.


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