Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Living with Covid-19 Restrictions: Statements (Resumed)
I thank all Senators for their contributions to this important debate on the Government's response to Covid-19, including the plan for living with Covid-19, Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021. Our overall goal is to reopen our society and economy as safely as possible. This is a challenge facing Governments the world over. Senators will have seen the responses to the pandemic that have been undertaken by countries across the world. With over 50 million Covid-19 cases now detected and the numbers rising daily, clear and decisive action is required.
The resilience and recovery plan sets out a clear framework for decision-making in regard to this Covid health pandemic. Our objective is to strike a balance between what is safe and what may risk increasing transmission of the disease. Therefore, we are prioritising particular sectors of society in the knowledge that we are working towards the restoration of normal life in the future. The measures set out for level 5 are judged to be those that give us the best chance of limiting the spread of the virus, while at the same time keeping the priority areas of society and the economy open. Not every sector of the economy can open at this time and we would like to have more contact with our loved ones and our friends. It is important to remember that these restrictions are necessary to keep the most vulnerable members of our society as safe as possible.I understand what Senator Lombard stated about nursing homes and people with dementia. We would like to do far more but, unfortunately, many of these restrictions must be kept in place. It is very difficult for people in nursing homes. Indeed, my mother is in a nursing home and we have not had physical contact with her since last March. I pay tribute to the staff and those trying their best in very difficult situations to address that very difficult issue. As always, we will be guided by the expert advice of NPHET, the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. We acknowledge the leadership shown by the European Commission and recognise the value of collaboration with it and other EU member states.
We will continue to promote clear public health advice for individuals. Much of the advice has not changed for many months. I hear what Senators are saying regarding communication, cartoons and messages like that. The HSE and the Department of Health have very clear structures governing how to get that message out. It is no harm to sometimes look at other ways of doing that. Other countries may have different ways of getting the message out. Deep down, we have to get the message out. Most people have worked in collaboration. We need to keep that united team, although doing so is becoming more difficult because we are now seven or eight months into this and it can be difficult to get that message out. The message is about good cough etiquette and hand hygiene, wearing a face covering as required by law and when visiting vulnerable people, avoiding crowded places and public transport as much as possible and working from home where possible. As a society, in order to suppress transmission of the virus and to reduce the impact of the disease, it is important for all of us, in all walks of life, to heed that advice. Although the Government can legislate for mandatory face coverings on public transport and in retail settings, it cannot legislate for every situation. We must all take an element of personal responsibility. We are human and we are all trying to do the best possible but sometimes we may err in our judgment. I call on everyone to continue to fight that battle. There are encouraging and positive signs that level 5 measures are beginning to have the intended effect. In the past two weeks we have succeeded in reducing community transmission and disease incidence.
Senator Currie referred to nursing home testing, the Covid app and waiting for contact tracing teams. I or my officials will get back to her on those matters. I refer to issues such as when the vaccine is rolled out. There will be challenges in rolling out the vaccine, first to more vulnerable people and front-line staff and then more generally. The Senator also referred to maternity hospitals and measures to protect mothers' mental health. That is an issue of which we are very aware.
Senator Buttimer commented on reopening the country and contact tracing. He also referred to the 18 December cut-off in schools, the advertising and getting the message out. It is necessary to get the message out.
Senator Wall referred to supports for older people. I wish to pay tribute to all the organisations that are dealing with this issue. I would like to think there is funding in place. If there are issues, Senators should please write to the Department and we can address those local issues. There has been a worrying increase in domestic abuse. I pay tribute to Women's Aid and the Garda Síochána. They are very concerned about, and aware of, that increase. We are getting the message out that there are people there to help. Those affected should never feel they are alone. I hope the structures and systems are in place to deal with that issue.
The Senator also referred to paying student nurses. That is an issue we are trying to address. Outpatient numbers have increased but we are now dealing with telemedicine and such supports. Covid has brought in many opportunities to change the way we do business. Reference was made to eprescribing. It was brought in in a matter of two days. There are many things we can learn from this awful virus.
Senator Lombard referred to Christmas, as did Senator Ahearn. Church representatives and faith leaders have met with the Taoiseach and I would like to think they have in place a system to protect parishioners. I have seen it myself. I hope that in the coming weeks we will be able to open up churches and other places of worship. Very robust systems have been put in place. They will be adhering to public health guidelines.
We have succeeded in saving people's lives thanks to the collective efforts of the public to adhere to the guidelines in line with the expert knowledge and advice of our public health specialists, and also thanks to the dedication and hard work of front-line workers. We need, individually and collectively, to keep doing the basic things right. That is what the vast majority of people are doing. Now is not the time to be complacent. We must keep driving down the disease in order that it is brought further under control. We must keep going.
I extend my sympathies to the family and friends of those who have died in recent months as a result of contracting Covid-19. I wish to acknowledge once again the contribution of front-line workers to the national effort. I know all Senators will join me in thanking every individual for their continued hard work and resilience at this time. In light of the good news on vaccines, it is to be hoped that they will be rolled out, possibly before Christmas or in the new year, and that at this time next year we will be talking about the Covid-19 response. I believe the country has mobilised. We do not always get it right, but I think we have been ahead of the curve globally. I hope we will be vigilant. I thank Senators across the House for their co-operation in these difficult times.