Government ‘sleepwalking us into another Christmas lockdown’, Dáil hears

The Government has been accused of “sleepwalking us into a Christmas lockdown”, in a case of “Groundhog day” as opposition leaders claimed the Coalition had failed to introduce comprehensive measures to combat the surge in Covid-19 cases.

The Dáil heard that some people over 80 will not be eligible for a booster vaccine until March of next year while some of the 65 and older cohort of 30,000 people will also be ineligible until then because they must wait five or six months from a previous vaccine.

The Government was accused of introducing a winter hospital plan that instead of being ambitious and progressive was aimed at “keeping our creaking hospitals at a standstill”.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy, who claimed the State was sleepwalking the country into a Christmas lockdown, questioned how the Taoiseach could say that schools are safe places as he called for proper ventilation to be installed in schools as other EU countries had done .

But the Taoiseach told him he was ridiculing public health advice as not valid. He said “the public health advice has been that our schools have been safe places from the get go.

“If children are symptomatic they should not go to school,” but he stressed that the biggest challenge facing children is non-Covid respiratory virus.

Social Democrats joint leader Catherine Murphy said people had lost faith in the Government’s capacity to handle the crisis. Pointing to the lack of information about the booster vaccination programme she said people in their 70s have been contacting her about when they are even likely to get notification of a date for vaccines.

Mr Martin said there were up to 2.2 million people eligible for the booster vaccine “and it’s not as simple as the first and second doses”.

People in long term care facilities aged 65 and older, a cohort of 30,000, started receiving the booster on October 4th but for some they would not be eligible until March 2012 “ because the five month-six month interval of the application of that has to be factored in”, but a majority had received their vaccine by the end of October.

The completion time for residents in long-term care under 65 is early mid-December and the end of December for health care workers under 60 years of age.

Vaccinations for those 80 and older, a cohort of 61,000 would be substantially completed by mid November but some would not be eligible until March next year.

For those aged 70 to 79 “you’re looking at end November, early December” for vaccination to be substantially completed and the end of December for those aged 60 to 69.

‘Absence of urgency’

As the Cabinet agreed further restrictions in the wake of the strain on the hospital system from Covid admissions Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that after the most serious emergency of a lifetime “there is a real absence of urgency and planning” from Government.

She hit out at the HSE’s winter initiative plan as one to “keep our creaking hospitals standing still” as hospitals reached capacity and she criticised delays in recruiting healthcare staff and said it took six months to hire a nurse and 562 days for a consultant which is “Orwellian in its proportions. Excessive bureaucracy, must be cut short she said.

The Dublin Central TD also accused the Government of failing to increase the number of acute hospital beds beyond what was already allocated.

But Mr Martin said there would be about 1,000 new hospital beds in the system by the end of the year “the largest ever” increase in the history of the health service, and “you can’t ignore it”, he told her.

He said he wanted to cut bureaucracy but “what tends to happen is working parties are set up and various consultants can have different views as to where particular elective facilities are to be located.

“They all have preferred options and there is too much analysis, which leads to a degree of paralysis. That’s before it ever gets to the department.”

He said he wanted to cut through this and “we are going to cut through it to get badly needed facilities done”.

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