Monday, 29 March 2021
Living with Covid-19: Statements
I will follow on from Senator Craughwell's remarks about aerosol transmissions. A year ago, people were mad about washing and sanitising their hands, and we were afraid that touching a surface someone with Covid had touched might mean we might get Covid. That is not as serious as we thought and science is looking more at airborne transmission. The German Parliament uses an aerosol cooling system to increase the flow of air in the building. The national Parliament of Belgium is also doing it and the European Parliament is considering it. I would be interested in knowing the science behind it. I think it is less about political paralysis here than maybe the science and data here are different from other countries, and other countries are ahead of us because they might have looked at it sooner. It is definitely the way forward, however, in making our larger public spaces safer as this continues. It is not just parliaments but supermarkets and other large indoor places. This type of science will be very important over the next year to 18 months. It is about understanding how it is transmitted through the air and how to reduce that.
I know we have had a debate about vaccines, and I could talk about that all day, but I want to make one point about vaccine numbers and vaccinations. I am massively pro-European. The EU is the best thing that has happened to this country. However, just because one is pro-European does not mean one cannot criticise it every once in a while. At the start of the process when countries such as Israel, the US and the UK went to the vaccine companies and asked how much they wanted and signed off on that, the EU tried to negotiate a price and organise the best value for money. That is like a person negotiating with a fireman over how much it will cost to save their house as it is burning down. It was complaining about nickel and dime when we should have gone straight in last January and asked how much the companies wanted, agreed to that and signed. As a result the EU has had a slower rate of vaccination. That is not to be critical; it is just a legitimate point. Ireland has been consistently in the top eight EU countries in the vaccination roll-out and that is the most important point. I will follow on from another point Senator Craughwell made. RTÉ sent me a push notification last Thursday, and on the news that night, the lead story was that there were 604 new cases and another 13 deaths. The same day 27,000 people got their first jab, RTÉ news was leading with the 13 deaths and 604 new cases. The BBC news includes a counter in the top left-hand corner of the screen recording the number of people vaccinated and it rises from 20 million to 25 million as it happens. We need to move away from the concept of recording case numbers now because it is no longer the yardstick by which to measure anything. It was for the first couple of months when we were scaring the bejayus out of the country but it is not anymore. We need to base the opening of society on data such as admissions to intensive care units or really severe cases. Those decisions should not be based on the fact there are, say, 700 new cases in Dublin and none in west Cork and that results in the whole country being locked down. The reopening of the country must be based on a different form of metric and measurement.
Cohort 4 is a brilliant idea. I know of a family with a young lad in his 20s who has one of the rarest diseases in Ireland at the moment. His father is his carer and they are based in Galway. They have been under lock and key at home, waiting for a vaccine to come along, and they are still waiting to get word about when the vaccine will come to them. It is important for those types of families that clarity is brought to the situation as soon as possible. It is the responsibility of GPs and doctors to identify patients on their lists who would qualify for cohort 4, and when the required level of vaccines come into the practice, they can start to vaccinate cohort 4. That is, essentially, how cohort 4 works.
I will turn to the situation in Dundalk. Who is being vaccinated there depends on the different doctors and when they ordered the vaccines into their practices. At the moment in Dundalk, people who are 80 and over are being vaccinated. Some people in cohort 4 have been vaccinated, as Senator Seery Kearney mentioned earlier. The programme is moving at a different pace depending on where a person is in the country.
There is no advice at the moment for someone who has been fully vaccinated in, for example, the United States and his or her eligibility to fly into Ireland tomorrow. Such a person should not be required to go into quarantine. That is one of the ways we are going to open up international travel. We need clarity on that matter. If someone is vaccinated in another country, how does he or she get into Ireland without any problems and without having to go into quarantine or anything like that? A person who has been vaccinated and can show proof should be allowed into the country. I would appreciate some clarity on that issue from the Minister of State.