Check Against Delivery
It is now more than 100 days since the first recorded case of COVID-19 in the State, and 92 days since the first person died tragically from the virus. 91 days since we instituted the first set of measures to suppress the spread of the virus and protect as many people as possible from its deadly power.
Today, as always, we think of the 1,695 people who as of last night have died in our State from COVID-19, and the further 537 who have died in Northern Ireland. Their lives shone brightly and were brought to an end before their time. As an Oireachtas we seek to honour their lives as we mourn their deaths.
In total, 25,231 people in the Republic of Ireland have been diagnosed with Covid-19. 92% have recovered with more on the mend.
Some 367,780 tests have been carried out, including 19,364 in the past week, of which 185 were positive, resulting in a positivity rate of less than 1% for the first time. That’s down from a peak of 20% back in April. This rate continues to decline and is very encouraging.
It indicates that the easing of restrictions on our economy and people has not enabled the virus to make a comeback.
At least not so far.
Last Thursday, when I spoke in the Dáil we had 47 new cases recorded the evening before. Yesterday evening it was 90. This time last week we had 36 people in ICU – that’s down to 29 – and 165 in hospital with Covid – that’s down to 92.
It is 42 days since we published the Roadmap to reopen our country, and 4 days since we moved into Phase 2+, enabling us to take small but meaningful steps to where we want to be when this is over.
The Government is now conducting extensive work, with the help of NPHET, on the revised Phase 3 and 4 of the Roadmap so we can have the country almost fully opened by the middle of July instead of the middle of August as originally planned. However, some measures such as public health advice and bans on mass gatherings, may need to continue for some time
These are still the early stages so it is too soon to evaluate how Phase 2+ is going, but the early indications are favourable. As a country we are optimistic, but cautious, we are hopeful while avoiding unnecessary risk. In the fine balancing act that our lives have become we are getting things right more often than not.
Our plan is working and we should stick to it.
It all depends of course on us continuing to keep the virus under control. There is always the risk that it might make a comeback, but the last couple of days have been quite encouraging notwithstanding the daily tragedy of new notified deaths to the Department of Health.
We are continuing to secure and stockpile supplies of PPE in case there is a second wave in the future and improve testing and tracing turnaround times. In this way we can deal with any resurgences locally without having to bring in major restrictions across the country again.
As part of Phase 2 the Cabinet made the decision to get childcare services reopened, because so much of our recovery depends on it.
From the 29th of June childcare services can reopen to ensure that one more obstacle is removed from stressed and anxious parents. We are of course all aware that very many childcare services closed in the months of July and August, but we would anticipate that the vast majority of those that usually open for the summer months will reopen at the end of June.
Whether it is health and social care workers, or parents unable to return to work otherwise, the reopening of childcare centres provides reassurance and makes what they do possible.
It is also necessary to ensure that vulnerable children, as well as those who are homeless, experiencing poverty, or disadvantage or child welfare issues, are looked out for.
I want to extend my thanks to Minister Zappone and her officials for the work that they’ve done to make all of this possible.
Thanks to everyone’s hard work in pushing back the spread of the virus, it is now safe to implement the Summer Programme for children with special educational needs and disadvantaged children.
There will be a particular emphasis on social inclusion programmes, such as School Completion Programme, as well as numeracy and literacy programmes for DEIS schools. I believe it is right and appropriate that we are prioritising those at greatest risk of educational disadvantage. It is also right that students with special educational needs benefit from the opportunities provided by the programme and don’t miss out this year.
In line with public health guidance, the summer programme will be a home-based and school based one, and will be supported by the HSE as well as the Department of Education.
So much will depend on schools, teachers and Special Needs Assistants choosing to participate, and I know that everyone will do what they can to make sure this works but I do appeal to schools, teachers and special needs assistants: please do participate because we can’t do this without you.
The focus of the programme will be on students and young people with complex needs – including those who have significant behavioural, social, emotional and sensory difficulties. Children with Down Syndrome will be included and will be able to participate and benefit from what’s on offer.
Minister McHugh and Minister Harris will bring specific proposals to Cabinet tomorrow for approval.
A bhuíochas do na híobairtí móra a rinne an pobal chun scaipeadh an víris a chúngú agus daoine eile a chosaint, bhí sé slán leanú ar aghaidh leis an dara céim den bplean a thosnú chun ár dtír a athoscailt ar an Luan.
Tugann an tseachtain seo, gach uile cúis a bheith dóchasach agus dearfach i leith na todhchaí. Tá na srianta á laghdú agus tá daoine ag dul ar ais ag obair. Tá siopaí ag athoscailt; agus tá ár dtír ag athoscailt. Ach táimid fós ag iarraidh ar daoine go leanfaidh said ar aghaidh leis na cleachtaí cearta a bhí á dhéanamh acu ar nós fanacht amach go fisiceach ó dhaoine eile agus dea-nósmhaireacht chasachta a chleachtadh, taisteal nach bhfuil gá leis a sheachaint, agus le linn na dtrí seachtainí seo chugainn go bhfanfaidís sa gceantar ina bhfuil siad.
Anois táimid ag déanamh pleanála chun dlús a chur ar na bearta sna céimeanna eile, le dhá cheann fós le dhul. Mar chuid de, táimid ag déanamh pleanála chun turasóireacht agus fáilteachais a athosceilt, ar an naoú lá is fiche den Mheitheamh. Níl an Samhraidh caillte againn agus má coinnímid ag déanamh na rudaí ceart, is féidir linn a bheith dóchasach faoi cad atá i ndán dúinn.
When we began Phase 1 of the Roadmap the Health and Safety Authority initiated a new national programme of inspections to ensure the safety of workers, employees and customers were safe when shops and businesses reopened.
Between the 18th of May and the 5th of June over 1,200 inspections were carried out by the Authority, with more than 1,000 relating specifically to the Return to Work Protocol. These inspections were completed across a range of industry sectors including construction, which accounted for close to half of all inspections.
An initial analysis of the specific COVID-19 inspections shows that employers are generally taking a responsible and proactive approach. Approximately three quarters of employers had a Response Plan in place. 8 in 10 had completed employee induction training. 9 in 10 had COVID-19 control measures in place. The HSA checklists and templates to drive implementation of the Protocol have now been downloaded over 30,000 times.
I want to thank employers and employees, business organisations and trade unions for their contribution and for helping us to get back to work and to get businesses open.
The HSA is now working on further material for Lead Worker Representatives and supporting a range of stakeholder groups as they seek to develop their own plans for a safe return.
Justice and Equality Impacts
I know that this pandemic has hit some sections of society harder than others, and some of those who could least withstand it have suffered the most.
Last Friday the Government considered the impact of the pandemic on people with disabilities, Travellers and members of the Roma community, vulnerable migrants, among others.
We know that the Gardaí have charged over 100 men with domestic abuse offences in recent weeks, and that unfortunately for some the message of Stay Home meant that they could not Stay Safe, because their homes are not safe places.
To all those living in fear because of domestic abuse, or having experienced violence, I am deeply sorry that the restrictions have made things more difficult for you. But there are people available to help. The Gardaí are just a phone call away, or if you want to talk to someone first, please reach out to family or friends, or call one of the Government supported helplines.
The Department of Justice and Equality is carrying out an analysis of the gender implications of the pandemic and this work will inform the next iteration of the Social Implications Report and shape the actions we take to help those most at risk.
As Professor Philip Nolan explained to the Special Committee on COVID-19 Response on Tuesday, the Government strategy is not one of mitigation, it is one of suppression, supressing the virus to very low levels. To zero if possible by keeping the R Number well below 1. Unfortunately, as he noted, ‘no strategy utterly insulates us from the risk of the virus re-emerging in our society’.
We share an open land border with Northern Ireland which has unrestricted travel with Great Britain. That is a Westminster competence not a Stormont one. Our society, our economy and our personal liberties are European and we are deeply integrated with Europe. Indeed, we’re European citizens.
Closing ourselves off from the rest of the world is not an option for Ireland in the medium to long term so we need to be prepared for the risk of imported cases as we re-open slowly to other countries. We need a testing and tracing system capable of identifying new cases, clusters and a resurgence of the virus quickly and so we can contain it and so we do not need to return to a national lockdown again. I am confident we can do that.
When we make our decisions, whether to restrict the way we live at the start of this Emergency, or to reopen our country now, we have at all times followed the fundamental principle of protecting lives and not doing harm. We know there are many types of harm. It is lost lives and it can also be lost livelihoods. It is the damage to our children’s education, the impact of a prolonged period of isolation on our mental health, or the harm caused by delaying treatment for non-COVID related illness or diseases, also known as secondary deaths.
So in the weeks ahead we will continue to follow this approach of minimising harm and protecting lives, as we work to rebuild our economy, reopen our country, and realise our vision for a safe, secure and sustainable new way of living.
As always, I welcome the comments and suggestions of Members.