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Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out: Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1007 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mary Butler: Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler] I remember saying in this Chamber that there were outbreaks in 195 nursing homes. We hope to hold a residual amount of money as a small buffer, so that if, for example, a nursing home was to have a significant outbreak of Covid, it would be able to apply for financial supports. TAPS, as we know it, will come to a natural conclusion at the end of June, having already been extended twice.

Deputy Stephen Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I thank Deputy Canney for his questions on the various issues. The short answer on the AstraZeneca vaccine is that there is no plan to shorten the interval below 12 weeks. The interval was extended from 12 weeks to 16 weeks for a significant number of people and is now being brought back to 12 weeks. All of the doses we have and all those that are coming are fully committed for second doses, so the 12-week interval is deemed to be the right one.

Regarding aviation, the Government is well aware of the enormous burden this pandemic has placed on the aviation industry. As the Deputy pointed out, other industries such as tourism are heavily reliant on aviation. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, have had numerous meetings with the industry this week. There is very close engagement at the moment.

With regard to the fully vaccinated, the current position for fully vaccinated individuals coming in from the US who have received one of the four EMA-approved vaccines, which is most likely to be the case, is that they are currently exempt from mandatory hotel quarantine. They still need to self-isolate but that can be lifted after a PCR test on day 5. However, in further progress, it is highly likely that the US will be one of the partner countries for the digital green certificate. We are looking to bring the digital green certificate in as quickly as possible. That will mean that anyone who is fully vaccinated with one of the vaccines listed by the Commission will be able to travel unimpeded, which will deal directly with the issue the Deputy raises.

Deputy Seán Canney: Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney In the remaining time I wish to go back to the TAPS issue. I am concerned that if we have a cliff edge scenario, bearing in mind what we have been through, and what the Minister of State described, nursing homes will be in an at-risk situation again. We have to be very careful about that. Given the work the nursing homes have done, we need to support them because they will doing a lot more work on safety measures going forward.

I welcome the Minister's comments on US travel. I hope we will be first to invite the Americans to Ireland and to get the green aeroplanes back into Shannon Airport and the regional airports as well.

Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I also welcome the Ministers today. It is great that we can welcome the vaccination roll-out because it is very positive. The reopening from 2 June of accommodation services such as hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation, self-catering and hostels is very important. Many pub owners in counties Carlow and Kilkenny have contacted me. I ask the Minister to look at this issue again. It is important that we are doing so well.

My understanding is that some maternity hospitals are allowing partners to accompany expectant mothers. Will the Minister provide an update in that regard?

I wish to raise a concern relating to my area. In Carlow and Kilkenny we have two excellent vaccination centres, in IT Carlow and in Cillín Hill in Kilkenny. Many people from Carlow are now going to Kilkenny for their vaccination. I compliment everyone on the excellent service being provided. I was delighted to get my vaccination last week in Kilkenny, but I am lucky as I have a car. One of the biggest issues raised with me in recent weeks has been that of people who have no transport. I was in contact with the HSE about this. There was no number for people to ring to say they had no transport or ask if they could go to Carlow instead of Kilkenny. I was trying to get some information for people, but was unable to do so. Will the Minister put something in place for people who do not have transport? It is important that people who are unable to go to Kilkenny are able to get vaccinated in their home town of Carlow. As the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, outlined, there has been confusion about Eircodes. I understand from the HSE that different age cohorts such as those aged between 60 and 70 years or those aged between 50 and 60 years have to be done at the same time. That is why Carlow people had to go to Kilkenny. That is good, but I urge the Minister to address transport as it has become an issue.

I welcome the fact that McCauley pharmacies are supporting the vaccination roll-out. The company announced that vaccinations will be given in six of its pharmacies, including in Carlow. I am delighted with that. The pharmacies will be able to vaccinate up to 200 people daily, which is very good news. The Minister spoke about pharmacies. It is great news for me and for people in all of the other centres where vaccines are being administered. I compliment McCauley pharmacies on doing this. It is great that Carlow will be one of its vaccination centres.

On rapid testing, it is important that we consider the use of antigen tests. I have received several queries about the TAPS payment and I urge the Minister of State to examine the issue. I know she said the scheme will come to a halt at the end of June, but I urge her to consider an appeal mechanism in the review as that would be important for nursing homes that may need support.

Deputy Joe Flaherty: Information on Joe  Flaherty Zoom on Joe  Flaherty I am extremely conscious of the tremendous progress that we have made in the vaccination programme in recent weeks. It is hugely positive that we have gone ten days without a Covid-related death. I thank the three Ministers here today, as I know they have invested a huge amount of time, energy and passion in this. I commend their efforts and those of their Departments.

I look forward to what I hope will be a positive update from An Taoiseach tomorrow. It is vital that we see a meaningful pathway forward for aviation, tourism, hospitality, sport and the arts. We all agree it has been a terribly difficult 14 months for the country. Businesses have struggled and, sadly, many will not reopen. As tired as we all are of regulations and restrictions, there is still an onus on us to put public health first.

Notwithstanding the successes of the vaccination programme, we are still tracking the UK and Northern Ireland by six weeks. At this stage, businesses and communities desperately need clarity and certainty so that they can plan their recovery. I am hopeful that the Taoiseach will deliver on the need for certainty and clarity tomorrow.

Yesterday's Fáilte Ireland guidelines for the hospitality sector were confusing and, in some respects, divisive. There is a short window for the sector to recover and we must give rural communities in particular every chance to recover. We again seem to be differentiating between hotels, pubs and restaurants, seeking to impose poorly thought-out time limits and also limits on the number of people allowed on the premises. We are probably two to three months away from finally getting to grips with Covid. At this stage we should be energising, mobilising and enthusing businesses and communities but yesterday's Fáilte Ireland guidelines have left them deflated and frustrated. I believe the public health requirements must come first, but I appeal to An Taoiseach and Government colleagues to provide a clear path and, where necessary, the supports that key sectors will need to restart and recover.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd All is not well in County Louth. I know people from other counties are praising the Minister but there is a serious problem in County Louth. More than 7,000 people have not received their vaccination appointments at the appropriate time. The HSE is dealing with the matter. What will happen on Monday and Tuesday is that 7,000 people from County Louth will have to go to The Helix in Dublin to get their vaccination. I welcome that because they will get the Janssen vaccination, which is a one-shot vaccine, and within 14 days of getting it they should be fine and should not need a further vaccination.

The big issue is why it happened and what the Minister is going to go about it. Will he give the HSE the support it needs to increase the vaccination roll-out in Drogheda in particular? The Drogheda Institute of Further Education, DIFE, is a vaccination centre that currently operates only three days per week. Will the Minister increase the number of vaccinators and staff to ensure the centre can operate on six or seven days a week, which is what is needed? The key point is how the Minister can ensure that this issue will not arise again with other age cohorts.

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