Monday, 29 March 2021
Living with Covid-19: Statements
I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. Not unlike her, I will express my condolences to those who have lost loved ones during this horrific period in our history. To lose a loved one is one thing, but to lose a loved one and then be on your own in your grief must be terrible.
I compliment the front-line staff, including our hospital workers, cleaners, retail staff and everyone else who keeps the economy going, including my beloved Defence Forces, which have always been available whenever called upon.
We need a Minister who is directly responsible for vaccinations and nothing else. The purpose would be to ensure that we always had up-to-date information. People constantly ask me what age group is being vaccinated currently, but the honest answer is "I do not know". I would also like to see a move away from the bad news every evening at 6 p.m. to some of the good news. Many good things are happening in the country. While one could argue that the Government is suffering from a certain degree of paralysis, there is work being done of which the people are not aware. They need to be made aware of it because many good people are working hard to get this country up and running again.
Hotel quarantining is a serious issue. No one is centrally in charge. It is a mix. The Defence Forces are filling an administrative liaison role, the hotel company is responsible for security and so on and the Department of Health or the HSE is responsible for the overall programme. There needs to be a more co-ordinated approach. It is a bit late in the day to complain that it took so long to get quarantine in place. It should have been in place at the start of this year. In fact, it should have been in place at the end of last year, but we are where we are and we have to make it work.
Will someone on the "Six One" news this evening tell me what age group is being vaccinated currently and when the next group will be taken? We seem to be working in age groups of every five years.Are we finished vaccinating those over 80 years? Are we now dealing with those between 75 and 80 years or are we dealing with those between 70 and 75 years? How soon can old codgers like me with underlying conditions expect their vaccine? That is the kind of information we need.
I listened to the Chief Medical Officer this morning. Pat Kenny has been on about antigen testing and Professor Luke O'Neill has been on about this for months. Today I heard there is a report on the Minister's desk now. What are we doing with a report at this stage? The EU has sanctioned antigen testing and has recommended it as one of the tools. It is not the be-all and end-all by any means, but it is a tool that can be used. My colleague, Senator Byrne, was just talking about concerts. This weekend there was a concert in Madrid or Barcelona attended by 5,000, I think. They all had to have an antigen test before they went in.
Covid-19 has stolen a year of my grandchildren's lives from school and a year of experiencing normal social interactions. For those aged 16 to mid-20s, it has stolen the most exciting years of their lives. Old codgers like me are losing out on that valuable year with our grandchildren that we will never get to live again. I would like to see something more positive coming, and antigen testing is one such area.
Much work is being done around aerosol transmission at the moment. Ireland seems to be behind the curve on this. Many countries have mechanical solutions which may be put in place in a Chamber such as this which allows for rapid air changing to reduce the level of infection. Why have we not got that here? Why are we still behind the curve? Are we so paralysed by a system that has to have all the legal imperatives in place before we can do anything?
I wish the Minister of State well as things go forward but I would like to see a staged opening up of the country, although I do not want to see major shows or matches right away.