Seanad debates

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Living with Covid-19 Restrictions: Statements (Resumed)


10:30 am

Garret Ahearn (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

When it came to my attention earlier in the week that a debate on living with Covid was scheduled for today, I thought it was only right and proper that I should take the opportunity to contribute to that debate. Like thousands of people in this country, I have lived with Covid for two weeks and it is important that I put on the record of the House my experience of it. I was lucky. I did not have many of the symptoms experienced by most people. In terms of how the HSE and my GP dealt with it, the structure in place is phenomenal. I rang my GP on a Monday and on the Tuesday at 5 p.m., 24 hours later, I had a test and I got my result on the Wednesday. I was symptom-free so I was surprised when I received a text message which confirmed that I had tested positive. I had been self-isolating since the Monday. The turnaround was impressive. The following day I was contacted by the HSE to discuss my close contacts.

Last week in the Seanad and again today I heard people calling for the opening up of the country to a certain level and saying that there are particular sectors of society and particular areas that are special cases and should be seen as such. I agree with what people are saying in terms of opening up churches and particular areas but in my own experience, my first reaction when I found out I tested positive was guilt in regard to those people to whom I might have spread the virus. In terms of close contacts, I had two, my wife and my child. For anyone in politics to have only two close contacts in the space of 48 hours is pretty much unheard of. When I reflect on it, the reason for that was the measures introduced by Government and the constant message not to meet people, to lock the office and to reduce one's contact as much as possible. Everyone worries about contact, whether with their parents or their young children. I was extremely lucky and I put that down to very difficult decisions that were made in the last four to six weeks in terms of moving to level 5. Not everyone was in favour of it because it is putting businesses and many people under huge pressure but it is about saving lives and keeping the numbers down.

I commend the Minister and the Department on their work. It is only when one tests positive one understands the fear in terms of where it might have spread beyond oneself. It is great to see that the numbers are reducing. We need to reduce them further. There are two weeks remaining of the level 5 lockdown and there will be a review before 1 December in terms of changes that have to be made. I agree with colleagues that we need clarity as quickly as possible. Businesses, pubs and retail outlets are all hoping and have their fingers crossed that they will be able to open and do some sort of business during the Christmas period. We need to give reassurances to them as quickly as we can. I know that is extremely difficult. I support my colleagues' comments in regard to churches and mass. Christmas is a really important time for people in my community in Grange and in Tipperary and everywhere else. It is a really important that people can celebrate Christmas, in some way normally if they can. Not all churches are big and many will not have huge numbers in attendance so they would be well able to facilitate holding mass during the Christmas period. The Government has been extremely good in terms of clarity and direction in the last month in regard to level 5. I would stress to the Minister of State the need to continue that in whatever level we move to in December.

On a personal level, I thank the Department, the HSE and NPHET. From my experience, the plan works and people do come out the other side of Covid.


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