This morning, people woke up with a great sense of anxiety and uncertainty about the future. Last night's news that the State was to be moved to level 5 from midnight tomorrow until the end of November was the source of this uncertainty and anxiety. I understand fully that this was a hard decision for the Government. I also know that it is an even harder decision for all those who will bear the inevitable brunt of the hardship it will bring. It would be impossible today to overstate the level of concern and, in some cases, distress among our people.
I fully accept that action had to be taken. There is no doubt that the virus is being transmitted exponentially. We now have six weeks to do the things I believe the Government should have done during the summer months, when we achieved a very low rate of transmission of Covid-19. At that time, through collective action and personal sacrifice, we suppressed the virus and, with the right plan, I am absolutely confident we can do it again. We must not, however, lose this second window of opportunity to build capacity and our defences for the time ahead. We need to see a plan, therefore, to increase hospital bed capacity and for the rapid recruitment of staff. We have to get testing and tracing right. We need a plan to ensure a secure and affordable roof over our people's heads, and we need to get things right as regards people coming onto the island through our airports and ports. It would be unthinkable if in six weeks we were to meet again not having responded to these challenges. We need a strategy that brings us beyond 2020. This must be an all-island strategy.
I was taken aback by the Taoiseach's comments last night that seemed to suggest we will move in and out of lockdown for the duration of 2021. I would like him to clarify that point for us. A lot is being asked of people over the next six weeks. The Government absolutely cannot sleepwalk its way through this lockdown. Everything that needs to be done must be done to ensure we emerge stronger at every level.
I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach has addressed his devastating cuts to the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and wage subsidy scheme. As he knows, we were very concerned that he did not do so in last week's budget. He now needs to make sure these payments do not leave anybody behind. One group that is struggling and has been left behind is mortgage holders. We argued very strongly that the mortgage payment breaks should have been extended for homeowners and businesses. That was at the end of September, just three short weeks ago, yet the Government failed to secure these protections. Now, three short weeks later, we are on the eve of a day when 200,000 will lose their jobs. Does the Taoiseach now accept that this was a very grave error in judgment on the part of his Government and, in particular, the Minister for Finance? Does he accept that this failure will have very serious implications for the credit ratings of tens of thousands of families and businesses? He could have done something about this but he failed to do so and that is shocking. He cannot blame people for believing the cosy relationship between his partner in government, Fine Gael, and the world of high finance was a key reason the Government sat on its hands and allowed this to occur.
Who will be calling in the banks? Will the Taoiseach be in contact with them directly and will he make it clear to them that they must play ball in giving easement and breathing space to mortgage holders?