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Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 999 No. 4
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] However, taking everything into account and operating in the limitations that exist, Sinn Féin decided not to.

Deputy Verona Murphy: Information on Verona Murphy Zoom on Verona Murphy Five months ago, I stood in the House and asked the Minister at the time for a roadmap on testing. My understanding was that in June, as we began to open up the country, the system of testing, tracing and isolating would begin in earnest and every person who needed to be tested for Covid-19 would be tested. I understood that was how Government was going to contain the virus while being able to keep the country open.

To me, test, trace and isolate means that positive test cases would and should be isolated. Then, their contacts would be traced immediately, tested and isolated and so on. Where that system is operated effectively, we can contain the virus. We test, trace and isolate. Yet, the information I have today is that in three and a half months the Government system has failed miserably. The virus has spiralled out of control. If we are to be truthful about the real reason it has spiralled out of control, it is that the Government failed to put a system in place to do contact tracing when the numbers were low. When we had cases of 70 and 80 per day, there was no effective contact tracing. As a result, we have seen the numbers spiral to multiples of that in every county. It has spiralled out of control. That is why we have a resurgence. It is a total systems failure in contact tracing.

The Government's inability to put in place the most basic elementary and logistical solution in contact tracing is the real reason that we are moving to level 4. Maybe not as many people would need the pandemic unemployment payment if we had an effective contact tracing system in place. Why has the Government system failed us with regard to contact tracing?

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I understand the argument Deputy Murphy is making. I can even understand, on occasion, the desire to seek to wish to blame someone for the fact that we are now experiencing a second wave of the virus. However, I do not believe the argument Deputy Murphy is making - that it is down to failures in testing and tracing - really stacks up. Let us consider Denmark, for example, a country that is doing three times as much testing as us. Guess what Denmark is experiencing? A second wave with a similar incidence of the virus to what we have. Let us take, for example, somewhere like Germany, which handled the first wave really well. Germany was extraordinarily impressive in terms of its ability to test, trace and isolate people. It has just recorded a record number of cases, the highest ever. The number is higher than even during the first wave. This is something that is happening all across Europe. All across Europe we are experiencing a second wave and pretty much every country in Europe is now recording record case numbers despite the best efforts of their Governments, populations and health authorities.

We should avoid the temptation to make it so simplistic that if only X, Y or Z had been done by someone else it would all have been grand, because that is not really what the facts tell us. I will explain why I believe that is not the case.

I want to pay tribute in particular to all the people who are involved in testing and tracing across Ireland currently. We talk a good deal about our hospitals being overwhelmed. Thankfully, so far, they are not. We have approximately 30 people in intensive care units and we have capacity for 350 beds. We have approximately 200 patients out of 11,000 beds. However, the people who are really overwhelmed at the moment are the wonderful people working in our laboratories who are processing 15,000 tests per day, the medical scientists, the wonderful public health doctors and contact tracers who are now trying to contact trace the contacts of 1,000 people nearly every day. That is really tough on them. The best thing we can do for them is to follow the public health advice. If we are going to have several hundred or 1,000 positives per day, and each of those has six or seven contacts, then that is 7,000 people per day who have to be contact traced. We would need an army of people, probably an army bigger than our Army, to trace that many people every day. The best thing we can do to help our laboratories, doctors, contact tracers, medical scientists and all the people who are helping to keep this virus at bay is to follow the public health advice to reduce our contacts. We should reduce them to the minimum possible while still living a realistic and possible life. That is how we can help them.

Deputy Verona Murphy: Information on Verona Murphy Zoom on Verona Murphy The Tánaiste says that we need not blame anyone. I am not blaming anyone. I am pointing out an ineffective system of contact tracing. I am inundated with calls locally. I will give one serious call as an example. It is the most harrowing one I have heard to date. It is about a young man, a GAA player, who tested positive but had not actually been contact traced for six days. His girlfriend, with whom he lives, works in a nursing home. That nursing home is now infected. It took six days to contact trace someone who had played GAA and did all the right things. He simply played GAA and became infected. Unfortunately, six days later his girlfriend had not been contact traced to him and she had been working in the nursing home. There is no point in testing. We have 100,000 per week being tested. The Tánaiste says 1,000 per days are being contacted. We had 60 cases in Wexford on Tuesday. We would need at least 310 people contact traced immediately. If we need 310 people traced in Wexford and the Tánaiste says there is only 1,000 per day, that means the system is inefficient and totally ineffective. That is why we are at level 4 and, most likely, going to level 5. I am asking the Tánaiste to put an effective contact tracing system in place to go with the testing.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I wish to be very clear about this because people really need to understand the public health message. We are now six or seven months into this pandemic. If a GAA player or a player of anything or anyone tests positive for this virus, the close contacts of that person must restrict their movements. People should not wait to be called or contact traced. They do not have to wait to be tested. I had to do it myself.

Deputy Verona Murphy: Information on Verona Murphy Zoom on Verona Murphy He did not know.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Once someone tests positive, the close contacts of that person must restrict their movements for 14 days, call or no call, test or no test, contact tracing or no contact tracing. That is how we contain the virus.

Deputy Verona Murphy: Information on Verona Murphy Zoom on Verona Murphy He was not contacted.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar He was not contacted with the test result. Is that it? If there is a delay in getting a test result-----

Deputy Verona Murphy: Information on Verona Murphy Zoom on Verona Murphy He was not contacted for six days.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar He was not contacted with his test result. Is that correct?

Deputy Verona Murphy: Information on Verona Murphy Zoom on Verona Murphy No. He was not contacted to be tested as a close contact.

The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar If Deputy Murphy wants me to check on that particular case I would be happy to do so. However, I am advised by the HSE that the median turn-around time is approximately two days, but I imagine there are cases where that does not happen.

Deputy Richard O'Donoghue: Information on Richard O'Donoghue Zoom on Richard O'Donoghue What is a primary medical certificate? A primary medical certificate allows a person with a disability to claim back VAT on a vehicle. It also allows for tax relief on the purchase and adoption of vehicles. For the past four years, the Minister for Finance has been embroiled in controversy over the criteria for this scheme. A case was challenged and went to the Supreme Court, and the Minister lost the case. Was this case warranted? How much did this court case cost? How many adults and children with disabilities could have been helped by the cost of this case? How can a person with a disability travel to a medical appointment, school, college or travel for their daily needs without this scheme being put in place? All five supreme judges ruled in favour against the Minister and the driver disability board on 18 June 2020. Yet, the Minister put nothing in place to substitute for the collapse of the scheme.

Why are disabled persons still getting replies and being put on a so-called list when the scheme does not even exist? I rang around the HSE and was told there were numbers in Limerick and Clare. Waterford had 54 and Kilkenny had 22. I was informed that in my neighbouring county of Tipperary assessments were being done virtually and Tipperary only has four. The authorities in other counties throughout the country are saying it is all being delayed over Covid-19 and that people cannot be assessed.


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