We should scrap current Covid level restriction model – Naughten

In Families, Health, Jobs, News, Older People, Tourism, Young People by Denis Naughten

Denis Naughten TD has called for the scrapping of the current 5 level ‘living with Covid-19’ model and it’s replacement with an Irish specific model that opens up as much of society as possible while ensuring the next wave of infection does not lead to a further lockdown.

“Too many of the restrictions introduced here are based on advice from the European Centre for Disease Control and too little are based on actual evidence collected on what works here in Ireland and what are the restrictions that best suit Irish circumstances,” stated Denis Naughten.

“We have reports again today that the National Public Health Emergency Team and its members are looking to Europe for answers as to what will be opened for Christmas here in Ireland.

“We need to accept there are circumstances unique to Ireland that are not replicated anywhere else in Europe. There is a big difference between dispersed rural populations, which make up 37% of our population here in Ireland, compared to the vast majority of Europe which has tightly knit urban communities.

“A concerted effort must be made to analyse the Irish-specific data regarding coronavirus trends and patterns to redesign the type of restrictions that should be imposed to manage and control this virus. This data should be used to manage the opening up of Irish society on the run up to Christmas and to prevent the need for further lockdowns.

“As Dr. Paddy Mallon pointed out, we are collecting huge amounts of data from contact tracing, laboratories, hospitalisations and digital data. If academics and Government health experts work together to analyse that data, we could find a way that would enable us to live safely alongside the virus, rather than just surviving from lockdown to lockdown.

“The problem with lockdowns is we do not know which bits work and which do not. While they do contain the spread of a virus, they also impose huge costs on communities, businesses and, most importantly, individuals.

“The costs imposed by the recent move to level 5, including a major increase in unemployment, the removal of social outlets for most of us, and the possible permanent closure of many businesses, were insisted upon by the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET.

“Each of these measures is having a direct impact on the mental health of everyone in this country and we need to see an opening up of society on the run up to, and during, Christmas.

“However, we also need to be conscious of the fact that based on the Covid-19 wave model research developed by Dr. Philipp Hoevel and his team in UCC, and presented to the HSE last June, we will have entered our third wave of Covid infection by February 2021. If we do not have proper systems in place, we could have another lockdown on St. Valentine’s Day and our fourth lockdown over the June bank holiday weekend. This cannot be allowed to happen,” concluded Denis Naughten.

ENDS.

Editor’s Note: See Dáil debate with An Taoiseach on this issue:

 

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí – Leaders’ Questions

Denis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)

The problem with lockdowns is we do not know which bits work and which do not. While they do contain the spread of a virus, they also impose huge costs on communities, businesses and, most important, individuals. The costs imposed by the recent move to level 5, including a major increase in unemployment, the removal of social outlets for most of us, and the possible permanent closure of many businesses, were insisted upon by the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET.

Each of these measures is having a direct impact on the mental health of everyone in this country. We are all seeing this in our dealings with the public. Based on the Covid-19 wave model research developed by Dr. Philipp Hoevel and his team in UCC, and presented to the HSE last June, we will have entered our third wave of infection by February 2021 if we do not have proper systems in place. As a result, we could have another lockdown on St. Valentine’s Day and our fourth lockdown over the June bank holiday weekend.

This is a stark situation and the only way to avert that happening is to do what we failed to do last summer and put in place a proper Covid-19 system with the capacity and capability to test, trace, isolate and investigate the sources of infection. The public will not accept another excuse from the HSE next February that the surge in infections could not have been predicted and that it was overwhelmed by the number of positive cases. The HSE has got fair warning and it must get this right. The public will also not accept the excuse from the Government that this is an operational matter for the HSE.

There is also an urgent need to use Irish-specific data regarding coronavirus trends and patterns to redesign the type of restrictions that should be imposed to manage and control this virus. As Dr. Paddy Mallon pointed out, we are collecting huge amounts of data from contact tracing, laboratories, hospitalisations and digital data. If academics and Government health experts work together to analyse those data, we could find a way that would enable our people to live safely alongside the virus, rather than just surviving from lockdown to lockdown.

Research into Irish Covid-19 patterns could lead to informed controls, rather than the quite blunt policies we have now. We have circumstances unique to Ireland. There is a big difference between dispersed rural populations, which make up 37% of our population, and tightly-knit urban communities. A concerted effort must be made to analyse the data we have available in the hope of preventing the need for further lockdowns. Will the Taoiseach commit this Government to act immediately and prioritise such research to help us all find solutions?

Micheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)

I thank the Deputy for his constructive raising of this issue and his questions. I accept fully his broad thesis regarding the need for Irish-specific research. I read the article to which Deputy Naughten referred regarding Dr. Paddy Mallon. I think it was in the Sunday Independenton Sunday, and concerned the need to do some more work on the specific data emanating from Irish sources. That work is under way in my Department in respect of doing more detailed statistical analysis of a range of variables concerning the virus.

We are learning all along the way. This lockdown is not the same as the first lockdown. The schools are open, and we pay tribute to all those involved in the school communities for the work they are doing. We will continue to work with the school communities to keep our schools open in the best interests of our children and students, so that they do not become long-term victims of this virus. The construction sector is also operating, given the necessity, from a social perspective, to continue to build homes to address homelessness and to deal with the needs of those needing affordable and social housing. Those are areas with long waiting lists. The first lockdown had a major impact on construction and resulted in the country not being able to fulfil the targets on the housing front that we had at the beginning of the year.

What we want to do now is get the figures for the virus down really low, and we should maintain a real collective national effort to do that. That will give us more flexibility at the end of November to see how we will manage the following months. We must learn lessons and use the research to adjust our behaviours, as a country and a people, in a way that is consistent with trying to keep the economy open for as long as we possibly can to protect livelihoods, but above all protect public health.

Turning to the testing situation, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ECDC, shows Ireland among the highest ranked countries in Europe for processing high volumes of tests.

The capacity per week is 120,000. More than 112,000 were swabbed last week and to date more than 1.4 million tests have been carried out in laboratories across Ireland.

On the test and trace systems we do need more personnel. We are recruiting very actively now for contact tracing. There are some 650 people now working in contact tracing centres across the country, of whom 344 are new recruits and the rest are redeployed staff. A further 450 will be recruited so there will be a dedicated, separate workforce of approximately 800 people working in contact tracing centres. Currently, more than 1,000 staff are working on swabbing and this is also made up of redeployed and new staff. There is continued new recruitment for swabbing purposes.

A total of €650 million has been allocated for testing and tracing next year. It is no small sum of money but it is vital in our battle against Covid-19.

Denis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)

We need to use Irish data to inform Irish decisions and not continue to rely on NPHET advice, which is based on what the EU health authorities are saying. Managing the virus in France and Germany is very different to a rural island in western Europe. The tools used by EU colleagues to tackle the virus may also be very different to the tools that would be used in Ireland that could allow our economy to survive and, more importantly, our people to live. The World Health Organization has made it clear that a strategy of rolling lockdowns is not recommended and we need to take this on board. We need public buy-in to whatever measures we take in this country to battle against Covid-19. There is a genuine concern that lockdown fatigue is beginning to set in. Would the Taoiseach agree that we need to take the time now to analyse the data and find and Irish solution that fits with our unique circumstances and avoids the need for a repeat of future level-5 restrictions?

Micheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)

I accept Deputy Naughten’s point about the need for research to inform future actions. With regard to the tools and what is being done in Europe, in many ways we have been ahead of what many European countries have been doing in dealing with the second wave. When I met with EU Heads of State and other Prime Ministers, what they were calling lockdown was our level 3, which was the closure of the hospitality sector. Some countries are just about doing that now, whereas four or five weeks ago we were dealing with that in the hospitality sector. The hospitality, aviation and travel sectors have been the hardest hit with regard to employment and the people in those industries. I am conscious of that. Equally, there are no magic solutions to this. The basics stay the same. I was reminded recently by someone who had seen advertisements around the 1918 flu that they were quite similar to the basic advice being given to people in 2020 for this pandemic: social distancing, avoiding congregation and cough and sneeze etiquette. Fundamentally, it is about human behaviour in prevention of this virus. Our geographical location is a bit more problematic than New Zealand for stopping the spread of the virus. We have a border, we have a very close relationship with the UK with travel, and with the rest of the EU, and this is problematic also in containing and having a zero-Covid approach, which would be very difficult indeed.