Monday, 29 March 2021
Living with Covid-19: Statements
I welcome the Minister of State to the House for this important debate. It is an important debate for society in terms of how we live with Covid and how we ensure we get society, industry and our economy back on the road. There are so many aspects to this debate that we need to start talking about, including how we are going to reopen Ireland as a society, but also the vaccines and vaccine roll-out. It is important to acknowledge that the miracle of the vaccines was a miracle of science. We are so lucky. Luck was on our side because the majority of the work had already been done because of SARS. But for the SARS outbreak a few years ago, we would have been years waiting for a Covid-19 vaccine. That is the truth behind how the vaccines were rolled out so quickly.Reading any of the medical journals or talking to the doctors will indicate that this was based on nothing more than the comprehensive work done during the SARS outbreak. Because we had the data and had the knowledge behind it and because Covid-19 was connected to it literally through a family connection, we then had the ability to move forward to produce a vaccine which will hopefully ensure that we get living again in our society in the next few months. That is the miracle of science. I acknowledge everyone who was involved in ensuring that happened. That is an important statement to make.
We need to ensure that we can rebuild our economy and society. Considerable work needs to be done in the health service to ensure that it can reboot after what we have seen. Last week, I spoke about speech therapy for children of three or four years of age which is now happening via Zoom. It is tough to try to get a three-year-old to communicate for 30 minutes. In fairness, the teacher is doing a fantastic job, but it really is a tough process. We need to start looking at the core investments that are required for our children in particular to ensure we can provide those services. We need to try to rebuild those services, particularly speech therapy for that very young cohort who have unfortunately missed out for the past 18 months. That will be a real challenge for our health service.
Many Members have mentioned the 5 km issue, which I hope can be addressed tomorrow. I believe that society has moved ahead of the politicians and NPHET regarding the 5 km limit. The weather has changed, and we are not in winter anymore. We have come into the springtime, even though one might not think it after the past few days. The clocks have gone forward and we have the extra hour in the evening time. People want to get out and take walks whether it is in urban, rural, scenic or coastal areas. I hope the 5 km limit can be addressed in the next 48 hours. If that can be addressed, normal living to some degree can resume.
The building sector is particularly important in trying to open up our society and economy. At present, construction work is happening for Irish Water and local authorities, including the building of social housing, but private home developments have stalled. Unless we free that up, the flood of workers who are leaving my part of the world and going to the UK will continue. We will have a real shortage of skilled workers when we try to recommence the building of housing. The knock-on effect will be that the majority of houses will remain unfinished.
At the weekend, I read that we could be down by up to 80,000 houses, which would lead to the start of a housing crisis all over again. I accept that is not entirely of our making, but we need to ensure that we keep our trained craftworkers. They are leaving at the moment. We now need to ensure that we reopen all construction. Construction is somewhat like agriculture; it is mainly based outside with one person and a machine. Obviously, there is social distancing because of the nature of the work. I hope we can address that key issue tomorrow.
I return to my original point. Were it not for the miracle of science, the miracle of the vaccine, the miracle of the scientists and the good work that was done particularly during SARS epidemic, we would be light years away from where we are now.