New Covid restrictions could have been avoided

17 December 2021
  • Delay in rolling out booster shots has left us vulnerable – capacity must be increased.
  • Our health staff must be supported and enhanced financial supports put in place for workers in affected sectors.

Responding to the announcement of new restrictions, Labour Health spokesperson Duncan Smith said:

“Once again a lack of urgency from the government has left Ireland in a position of having to implement new restrictions. We would not be in this position if a more proactive approach to boosters had been taken. In the last two weeks the rules covering boosters were relaxed but this has now created even more pressure on the vaccination system.

“I am deeply concerned at the ongoing impact of the pandemic on our healthcare workers, who have been in crisis mode for nearly two years which is simply unsustainable. The reports from exhausted nurses, doctors, GPs, healthcare assistants and support staff who are soldiering on the frontline show the deep emotional and physical toll it is taking on them. We may not like these measures but they are a last resort to ensure our hospitals are not overwhelmed.

“For months the Labour Party has called for a quicker and more comprehensive rollout of the vaccine booster shots to increase the level of protection in the population. Unfortunately government and NIAC dragged their feet on this, most notably in the delay for third doses for frontline healthcare workers. The evidence had been clear for some time that booster shots would be needed for all. Speed should have trumped perfection and caution.

“While decision making was delayed, our national vaccination infrastructure was allowed to degrade with staff moving on to new jobs or returning to previous positions. Covid is constantly surprising us, and once again a new variant has upended plans.

“The HSE have done incredible work within the confines of the parameters imposed on them by ensuring as many people can get boosted as quickly as possible, but the shortages of staff in PCR testing and for vaccinations was easily predicted weeks ago. At the start of this month I called for a new national effort to get numbers down, and a recruitment drive for vaccinators and swabbers. Unfortunately the government did not act then.

“What is needed now is more capacity to be put in place at vaccination centres by using all available staff. More regional centres should be opened, and all ages allowed to sign up. If there is a shortage of vaccinators, eligible medical students and experienced healthcare workers and first responders should be considered for training as vaccinators. There are volunteers in organisations like the Order of Malta and Red Cross that could be mobilised.

“Hospitality has now been left in limbo. Full financial supports should be offered to those workers and businesses left in the unenviable position of restricted opening hours until the end of January, and an enhanced PUP that includes those like taxi drivers, live entertainers, and workers who will now have less hours to work.

“Nearly two years into this pandemic Ireland still doesn’t have statutory sick pay in place, and there are no clear guidelines or standards on ventilation. The fiasco over HEPA filters for schools is an example of the lack of a comprehensive approach to tackling this pandemic.”

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