A Cheann Comhairle,
Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le muintir na hÉireann as an difríocht mhór a rinne siad chun dul i ngleic le Covid a naoi déag. Tá an cuar á mhaolú againn agus tá an chuid is measa den ráig thart.
Tá na mílte daoine sábháilte againn. Níor sháraigh obair na bhfoirne ospidéal agus lucht chúraim sláinte orthu.
D'aineoinn sin, tá an iomarca cásanna nua againn agus tá an iomarca daoine ag fáil bháis go fóill.
Cuireann sin in iúl dúinn go laethúil go bhfuilimid fós ag iarraidh smacht a chur ar an aicíd.
Mar is eol daoibh, tá plean againn chun an tír a oscailt ar bhealach fhadálaigh, céim ar chéim.
Tá cúig chéim ann, agus trí seachtaine eatharthu go léir ag tosnú ar an ochtú lá déag de Bhealtaine.
Bainfidh sé tamall maith ach tiocfaidh ár saol ar ais beagnach mar a bhí roimhe seo - ach beidh gnáth nua i gceist.
Beimid ábalta sólás croí a thabhairt dá chéile go pearsanta. Beimid ábalta daoine a chur ar ais ag obair. Beimid in ann a bheith buartha, brónach i dteannta a chéile.
Is í an teachtaireacht is mó atá agam, do gach duine atá at feacháint ná gur fiú na híobairtí a rinne sibh. Tá na mílte daoine sábháilte dá bharr.
Is í an aidhm atá againn anois ná an gníomh a thosaíomar a chur i gcríoch.
Foremost in our minds are all those who have lost their lives because of COVID-19, and all those who are suffering from its impact, physically, emotionally or financially. As of last night, 143 have died since we met in this format last week. I offer my condolences and those of the House to their families and friends.
Due to the decisions, choices and sacrifices of the Irish people the curve has been flattened. It may have plateaued, but our grief has not. We now have a roadmap for how we will bring our country to a new normal, and the stakes are too high to rush things now or we will risk everything we have achieved.
As we start to ease the restrictions, we must continue our commitment to the basic actions such as cleaning hands and physical distancing. We must try to find, isolate, test and care for every case, and trace every contact.
As we ease the restrictions personal discipline around physical distancing and hand washing and respiratory hygiene will become more important than ever.
As of Monday almost 215,000 tests have been carried out. Over the past week, close to 62,000 tests have been carried out and of these 2,280 were positive, giving a positivity rate of 3.7%. A rate that is continuing to trend downwards. 65,000 tests have been carried in long-term care residential centres including nursing homes and 540 nursing homes or 93% of the total have been tested so far. This testing continues.
During the course of this Covid emergency some nearly 3000 people have been hospitalised. 78% have made a full recovery.
Some significant developments have taken place since this day last week. The HSE is increasing its testing capacity to 12,000 tests a day, and by mid-May we will have capacity for 15,000 tests per day. The total number of tests carried is 215,000– that’s 43,000 tests per million population. Depending on how you measure it, it puts Ireland between 3rd and 7th among the EU of 27 and we are now well ahead of countries that led the way in testing previously such as Germany, South Korea and Singapore. We need to focus also on turnaround times and rapid and aggressive tracing.
One of our focuses at the start was to build surge capacity in our hospitals. We needed to ensure that we had the maximum possible number of critical care and regular hospitals beds so we could cope with the predicted number of COVID cases requiring hospitalisation.
We need to remember that the 3000 people that have been hospitalised so far have come from all settings, some from their own homes, some from nursing homes and some from other form of care home. They are young, they are middle-aged and they are older. The whole point of increasing critical care capacity and hospital capacity was because that is where the sickest will end up. 3000 people have been hospitalised with Covid to date and it is good that we have not run into issues with the availability of critical care beds or ventilators. It could have been very different.
The willingness of people in every village, town and city to follow the public health advice changed the future. It has meant that our hospitals have been able to cope, and our healthcare staff have not been overwhelmed. This success however has brought a different challenge – and we need to now work out manage separately COVID and non-COVID care for a prolonged period of time. This is not going to be easy.
This means we will need to provide care and services in new ways, like increased use of telemedicine and online clinics, increased use of hospital in the home while ensuring that patients are confident about the quality of their treatment and reassured about the safe provision of care.
For those feeling isolated, I know how easy it is to become anxious and lonely when you have to spend a considerable amount of time on your own. Please remember that help is always available, and to reach out to a friend or family member or contact Community Call.
Last Friday we published our Reopening Plan and since then the indicators are that we are going in the right direction in terms of the positivity rate. ICU occupancy is below 100, falling towards 80 today. We are increasingly confident, though it is not certain, that we can proceed with phase 1 on Monday the 18th. Cabinet will make a final decision on that on Friday 15th May following advice from NPHET.
I know that we have faced some criticism that our plan to re-open the country is at a slower pace that other countries. It is true that it is slower. Slower than countries much less affected than us like Australia and New Zealand, and slower than countries much worse affected than us like Spain and Belgium. This is a Government decision made on foot of advice from NPHET. It’s one we stand over. I would rather we have a plan that we accelerate if thing go well rather than one that we might have to pause or draw out, or to go back on, if things don’t.
We are putting people’s lives and health first. We don’t want to have to re-impose restrictions like some other countries have as this would damage public morale and further dent economic confidence. We want to learn from the success and errors of other European countries re-opening before us. It is encouraging to see the data from Germany which indicates that their reopening has not yet led to an increase in cases. I think this is a prudent, precautionary and health-led approach.
The Government is keen to hear from sectors and businesses which thing they can open more quickly, and see their plans for how they will achieve physical distancing, and what precautions they would put in place to mitigate risk where they cannot.
Our objective is to help our country get through this emergency, rebuild our economy, get people back to work, and keep them safe while doing so.
We are currently working with business, unions, the Health and Safety Authority and the HSE on the development of a return to work safely protocol to assist this.
According to our most recent figures, 598,000 people are receiving the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment. This is on top of the 205,000 people on the Live Register. So a total of 803,000 are receiving some form of income protection from the State.
As we know, we came back from the last economic crisis and we achieved full employment. I believe with the right policies we will do so again and with the right policies the recovery will be quicker this time.
On Saturday we announced an economic plan worth up to €6.5 billion to help businesses impacted by COVID-19 and minimise the extent of the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
Commercial rates will be written off for three months, a 2 billion euro credit guarantee scheme will be introduced for small and medium sized businesses, and our sovereign wealth fund has been mandated to invest 2 billion euros directly into bigger firms.
Maintaining the link between employees and employers will enable a quicker recovery. The wage subsidy scheme will help to keep staff on the payroll.
There is also a €1 billion COVID-19 funding package to help businesses with cashflow.
Banks will also be allowed to dip into their rainy-day capital reserves to keep lending flowing, freeing up €1bn in bank capital to provide up to €13bn in credit.
Meanwhile a suite of taxation measures will alleviate short-term liquidity difficulties.
I am keen to see a return to international air travel as soon as feasible. There is lot of work to do but I am more optimistic than others that air travel for business and leisure will resume this year. Currently there is important work being done by European Commission and various aviation safety agencies and I hope to give an update on this to the Dáil in the weeks ahead.
We are still learning about this virus. It is noteworthy that initial experts suggest from retrospective testing, that the virus was circulating in France as far back as December last year.
That is before the virus even had a name or a test for it. In some ways this is not surprising, France is well connected to China with dozens of flights every day. And, Ireland is well connected to France.
Indeed, it is possible that the virus was already in Ireland last year or in January this year. We should not assume that it came here from Italy in late-February just because that was the first confirmed case. Further research and retrospective testing will give us a better idea and time will tell.
As we know, the coronavirus is a shared enemy of all of humanity and all governments. I believe the only way we can defeat a global threat is by working together on a multilateral basis.
Working together, we can develop an effective vaccine, effective treatments and testing systems. So far, Ireland has contributed €60 million in direct or repurposed grants to the UN and we have quadrupled our funding to the World Health Organisation to €9.5 million.
On Monday, on behalf of the Irish people, we announced a new pledge of €18 million to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, so that the poorest countries in the world will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, if and when it’s developed. We are providing €10 million over 3 years for immunology research.
The Department is also supporting the WHO Solidarity Study, which is comparing four treatment options, including remdesivir, which is available to Irish patients under certain circumstances. By recruiting patients in several countries, and shortly here too, the trial aims to rapidly assess the impact of these treatments in slowing the disease or improving outcomes.
As always, Ceann Comhairle, I look forward to hearing Members’ comments and observations.
Translation of Opening
I want to thank the Irish public for making a real difference in the fight against Covid-19. The curve has been flattened and it has now plateaued.
Thousands of lives have been saved. Our hospitals and healthcare staff have not been overwhelmed.
Unfortunately we still have too many new cases and too many deaths. They are daily reminders of what we are fighting for.
As you know, we have a plan to re-open the country in a slow, staged, phased way.
Five stages, three weeks apart starting on May 18th.
It will take some time but our lives will get back to normal – a new normal. We will be able to comfort each other in person. We will get people back to work. We will be able to grieve together.
My message to everyone watching is that your sacrifices have been worthwhile. Thousands of lives have been saved. Our objective now is to finish what we started.