Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Living with Covid-19 Restrictions: Statements (Resumed)
I welcome the Minister of State. He is obviously no stranger to this Chamber. I welcome his new position. This debate is very welcome. How we live and interact with Covid will be a significant issue in the future. The Houses of the Oireachtas need to consider holding debates like this, or perhaps even a rolling debate. The issues we have seen over the last seven or eight months have been frightening. The general public and the State have reacted amazingly to these issues and we have tried to change our lifestyles and behaviour to survive this crisis. We are effectively living through history and, because of this, we have come across things we never thought we would. We are wearing masks and are involved in other things every day in which we never thought we would be involved.
There are a few issues I would like to raise with the Minister of State. One, which is directly related to his Department, is the issue of nursing homes. There are major restrictions on nursing homes. I understand the criteria behind them but we need to consider people who have dementia and who suffer from Alzheimer's disease in particular. Their only way of making contact with people is through physical touch. A family has been in contact with me regarding loved ones in nursing homes whom they have been unable to physically touch since last March. This is an unfortunate side-effect of the Covid crisis. Time is very limited for these people. Will they see another Christmas? I hope they will but they might not. Not being able to hold a person's hand, let alone hug them, is a major issue for these people. As we try to live with Covid, perhaps the Department needs to review how interaction could be allowed for the small number of people who have dementia or Alzheimer's and have no other way of communicating. Meeting online unfortunately does not work for these people. The holding of someone's hand is literally their only form of communication. We need to look at those issues if we possibly can because, unfortunately, time is not on these people's side. Some of them are parents and their children feel helpless. They do not know how they can interact with their parents in the last few months of their lives. I know I have raised this issue with the Minister of State before but he might respond to it, if not today then in due course, because it is a key issue which we need to examine.As we try to live with this disease another cohort of society that is trying struggling is the generation that has gone back to school. I refer in particular to children in first, second and third class, as I have personal understanding of what they are going through in school. What Covid means to them is that they can no longer see their grannies on a weekly basis and their mothers and fathers are at home full-time, which, in many ways, is a good environment. Last September, they went back to school and Covid hit them like a brick. They are continuously sanitising and some are sitting behind screens. The lack of knowledge for those seven-, eight- and nine-year-old children became apparent to me. There needs to be a focused campaign on how we can interact with these schoolgoing children so they understand that Covid is not going to kill them. Unfortunately, in my household, after the first two weeks of school my children thought it was going to be the end of them. It took a lot of engagement to calm them down and to make them understand if they do the right thing everyone will be okay. I believe we need a campaign, which should be something like an animated cartoon, to bring it down to children's level such that they can have an interaction at their basic level. They have fierce understanding but they will interact with that campaign. A campaign of this nature to inform our primary school children would be beneficial. I am asking that the Department of Health would examine with the Department of Education the introduction of a campaign for our primary school children in particular who need a real understanding of Covid and what can be delivered on the ground. I believe it would be a game changer.
The third issue is what will happen in regard to Christmas, in particular Christmas week. We will have debates about pubs opening and so on. I believe we will have to put in place protocols around the management of religious affairs and access in that regard during Christmas week in particular. The week of 25 December is a special occasion for families and communities. If protocols are to be put in place we need to start talking about them now such that those who might need to put in place structures will be made aware of them. Communities want to celebrate Christmas, Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in their particular way. Time is of the essence. The Minister needs to issue a strong statement regarding how we can celebrate those religious affairs.