Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Ba mhaith liom ceist na n-ospidéal a phlé leis an Tánaiste, go háirithe ó thaobh na leapacha in ICU. Tá a fhios againn ón eolas a tháinig chun solais inné go bhfuil 13 dár n-ospidéil ar fud na Stáit nach bhfuil leaba ar bith ICU ar fáil iontu, agus i seacht gcinn eile níl ach leaba amháin le fáil. Tá an fhoireann atá ag obair sna hospidéil faoi bhrú millteanach. Ag an am céanna, tá a fhios againn ó Be On Call for Ireland go bhfuil níos mó ná 1,500 duine, dochtúir agus altra atá sásta dul ag obair inár n-ospidéil ach níl conradh faighte acu. Fosta, tá cúpla céad altra ann atá sásta theacht chun an tír seo ach níl an Roinn Dlí agus Cirt ag ceadú a gcuid visas in am. Tá sé ag glacadh trí mhí. Caithfear níos mó a dhéanamh, gan dabht, ar an ábhar seo.

In the past number of days, the situation in our hospitals has continued to deteriorate due to the number of Covid-19 patients requiring hospitalisation. The daily operations update on the situation in our acute hospitals is one that makes for very grim reading. The latest report available, from yesterday, states that there are now 13 hospitals without any ICU capacity, seven other hospitals that just have one ICU bed left and that a sizeable majority of patients in ICU beds throughout the State are now there due to Covid-19. ICU capacity, we are told, is expected to be used up by the weekend, as reported in the media. I want, first, to express my solidarity with the staff in all of our hospitals and, indeed, the patients. Our staff are experiencing at the moment something that is unimaginable. It is a very worrying time. They are overworked, exhausted and anxious about the period ahead and many of them are angry that they have been left in this situation. The least we can do here is thank them for their work and express our support for them at this extremely difficult time.

Over the summer, as the Tánaiste will be aware, Sinn Féin warned that capacity needed to be ramped up. This did not happen in sufficient ways. The IMO warned the Government, upon publication of the winter plan, that it was insufficient and that more needed to be done. The failure to build in the necessary capacity has left us again relying on surge capacity and the option of using private hospitals. These remain the only options at the Government's disposal at the minute to alleviate the situation. My own local hospital in Letterkenny has just a handful of acute beds left throughout the hospital at this time and no available ICU beds. I know from speaking to staff at the front line that they are very anxious about the coming weeks and they are very worried. They know that we cannot conjure up capacity in a couple of days and there is a huge job of work to ensure our medium-term and long-term capacity is expanded.

However, there are a number of things we can do to help to alleviate the situation in the short term. The deal with the private hospitals is one of them, a deal which provides one third capacity. Does the Tánaiste believe this is a sufficient amount of capacity? Does he believe it should be increased and have discussions begun to increase that capacity? There remains available, through the Be on Call for Ireland initiative, a pool of approximately 1,500 healthcare workers. Many of these are job-ready, including nurses, doctors and other staff willing to take up work in our hospitals but who have not been deployed. Why have they not been deployed and when will all the nurses and doctors who are making themselves available be deployed in our public services?

In addition, there are currently serious delays in processing atypical working visas, which is preventing the recruitment of healthcare staff. We are told that it is currently taking ten to 12 weeks to process the applications for these visas. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, had to cancel 200 examinations for nurses due to the delays in processing the applications in January alone. Last March, the Department was taking 48 hours to process these applications; now it is taking up to three months. The reality is that if it were not for the Department dragging its heels, we could have 200 additional nurses in Ireland by the end of the month. These nurses are willing to leave their own home country to come to Ireland to work in our public health system at a time when the virus is as its worst. We need to do a lot better. Why is the Department dragging its heels on this issue?

I thank the Deputy. First, the situation in our hospitals remains very precarious and, unfortunately, it is continuing to deteriorate. The very best way we can support the staff working in our acute hospitals is to continue to abide by the restrictions, to social distance and to do all the things that are being asked of us. That is what we need to do to decrease the number of people getting Covid and going into hospital. That is the best way that we can turn the corner on the current situation. As the Deputy will know, the situation in Northern Ireland is similar, if not worse, so I do not think today is a day when Sinn Féin, which is in government in Northern Ireland, should be scoring political points on an issue like this. The job that party has done in Northern Ireland is not one to be proud of, in my view.

In regard to the hospitals, at the moment there are 1,838 patients with Covid in our hospitals and 176 in ICUs. What is somewhat encouraging is that the number of admissions to hospital yesterday was 149 but the number of discharges was 128, so the net increase, at least in the past day, was much smaller than on previous days. There is a glimmer of hope. Cases have been falling now for a number of days. We may see the total number of people being hospitalised starting to fall in about a weeks' time and ICU numbers starting to fall in maybe two weeks' time, but it will be a very difficult, precarious and dangerous situation for the next two weeks, at the very least, in our hospitals. In total, across the hospital system - I appreciate it varies from place to place - there are 510 acute beds and 29 ICU adult beds free today. There are also paediatric beds. It is possible, and not unusual, for people to be transferred from one hospital to another where there is capacity. There are 29 ICU beds and 510 acute beds available today across the system.

In regard to solutions, which the Deputy touched on, and what we can do to alleviate the situation to make sure our hospitals do not become overwhelmed over the next couple of weeks, there is the deal with the private hospitals. That allows us to use up to 60% of their capacity, not 30%. Those discussions are under way with hospitals at the moment. The 30% is secured and a further 30% can be sought and has been sought. We are going to try to access that. It is also possible to create surge ICU capacity within our hospitals. We have increased ICU capacity since this time last year but, as people appreciate, an ICU bed is not a bed. It is an entire care system and it requires trained and qualified staff. We have the kit. We have 1,800 ventilators and we probably only have 100 or so people on ventilators at the moment. We have 1,800 ventilators and we have the kit, but having the staff trained up and ready to go is a different matter. Some are out sick, some are close contacts and cannot come to work and lots are really exhausted after a very difficult year, which the Deputy will appreciate. We can provide extra ICU capacity, which is the surge capacity, by turning ordinary wards, theatres and recovery areas into additional ICU beds.

In terms of the Be on Call for Ireland issue, I will ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, about that and come back to the Deputy on it.

My understanding is that when we ran that programme some months ago it ran into real difficulties because a large number of people who signed up were not qualified. Many were already working, for example, in nursing homes and were seeking to transfer to hospitals. That is not something we wanted to happen because nursing homes are under pressure as well. I will certainly seek an update from the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, on that and come back to the Deputy.

The Deputy asked about working visas. I was not aware that was the situation with regard to working visas in my Department. There can be delays but the turnaround times given by the Deputy now versus then are new to me. I will take that up with my Secretary General to see if there is something we can do.

The issue is very serious. My local hospital in Letterkenny had seven ambulances parked outside on Sunday night. Patients were being treated in the forecourt of Letterkenny University Hospital in ambulances because there was no capacity. A total of 11 beds were closed within the hospital because of staffing shortages. As the Tánaiste says, many are out sick. Up to 180 are either close contacts or Covid-19 positive themselves.

We have the statistics. What concerns me is that hundreds of nurses who are qualified and job-ready with completed clearance under the Be On Call for Ireland programme have not been deployed. There are currently 268 in the pool of doctors. There are 1,491 in total in the pool. More than half of these are job-ready but they have not been deployed. Some 200 examinations had to be cancelled for nurses who were willing to come to this country. Applications made as far back as November still have not been processed. These people are supposed to be taking up positions in community settings and different hospitals throughout the State but the visa application system is preventing them.

I will finish on this point. We all absolutely recognise the work of front-line workers but when people are willing to step forward, we have a responsibility to take some of the pressure off those in the system and ensure all the red tape is taken away. Will the Tánaiste answer those questions?

The Deputy asked about Be On Call for Ireland. As I mentioned earlier, that was something we launched last March. I launched it as Taoiseach with the Minister for Health at the time, Deputy Harris. We had a significant level of interest in it but it did not turn out to be what we thought it would be because we found that a significant number of people were not available. Some were not resident in the State. Some were already working within the health service and we did not want to redeploy them from areas where they were already working. Others did not have the appropriate qualifications. I will seek an update on that from the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, as things may have changed since I last looked into that issue.

I will do the same in respect of work visas. That matter has not yet been brought to my attention in person. Neither the HSE nor the Minister for Health have said to me that it is an issue. It may well have arisen in written questions but no one has raised it with me in person until now. I will certainly look into that to see if there is something we can do. It is important to point out that working visas need to be processed properly. Ultimately, we have an obligation and duty to the public to ensure people are safe and that those who receive work visas and permits are who they say they are and have the qualifications they say they have. It cannot simply be done overnight although perhaps it can be done more quickly.

I wish to focus my questions on the vaccine roll-out. From the get-go I am one of the first to admit that there has been at least some progress from a vaccine point of view over the past three or four weeks. For example, we now have two fully approved vaccines in the country. I hope that from tomorrow fortnight there will be approval of a third vaccine candidate, and that is a good thing. For all its imperfections, at least the vaccine roll-out is under way now. Approximately 50,000 people have been vaccinated every week. That is also to be welcomed.

Vaccine hesitancy was a big issue prior to Christmas but it seems to have completely disappeared now. It has probably been replaced with something like vaccine mania - people are so keen to get the vaccine as soon as possible. From a vaccine perspective it can only be a good thing that there is rising confidence in the side effect profile and the efficacy of these vaccines.

Having said that, the roll-out is regarded as being quite sluggish. I have some practical knowledge of what is happening and I have three questions, suggestions or observations that might nudge things along somewhat. The first thing I wish to comment on is the information technology system. Many people present may not be aware but the IT system does not work at all. If a person goes to a nursing home and opens his or her laptop, he or she cannot input any data from a vaccine perspective at all, which is a major problem. In effect, we are combining 21st century cutting-edge vaccine medicine with a 13th century means of recording it, which is simply a pencil and paper. That has significant downstream effects for data presentation and situation awareness for both decision makers and members of the public.

The second suggestion I wish to make relates to healthcare workers. It is a good thing that front-line healthcare workers in acute hospitals in big cities are being vaccinated. That is actually happening. However, as a member of the Regional Group, I wish to highlight that there are front-line healthcare workers in the community throughout regional and rural Ireland who need to be remembered as well. They work in dental surgeries and GP clinics. They work as physiotherapists and in home care and have a full plethora of skills. Can the Tánaiste offer reassurance that these people will not be forgotten about?

The most important point is on the AstraZeneca vaccine. I hope we will get approval from the European Medicines Agency tomorrow fortnight that this third vaccine candidate can be used. Has the Tánaiste given any thought to pre-positioning? By this I mean acquiring these vaccines in advance of the announcement if and when it comes. It could mean that if and when the announcement is made later this month, we actually will have the vaccines in the GP clinics ready to go. Then, within hours, we can start vaccinating. It is important that we move these vaccines from the shelf into people's shoulders, where they belong. I would be grateful for the thoughts of the Tánaiste.

I thank Deputy Berry - Dr. Berry - for his contribution and for the work I know he has been doing on the front line in respect of the vaccination programme.

The programme is well under way. We are doing better than people think. There are approximately 200 countries in the world but only 40 have started a vaccination programme and we are among those. We are now in the top ten or 12 in terms of vaccines given per day and we are above the EU average. Of course, we aspire to climb in the rankings and to be in the top tier of EU countries.

It will be offered to everyone. It is free. It is not compulsory. It is safe and effective. People will need two doses, approximately three to six weeks apart.

People have been prioritised, as Members are away, into 15 groups. We are focusing now on groups 1 and 2, which include nursing home residents and staff, those over 65 years in residential care and front-line healthcare workers. I think people understand the reasons why.

An information technology system has been developed that was delivered to the HSE at the end of December. Additional functionality is being added but it is not needed yet. As the Deputy pointed out, we are vaccinating in nursing homes and in healthcare settings and it is a pen and paper exercise at the moment. We will, however, very much need the IT system when we go out to the GPs and pharmacies. I am told that we will be ready for when it is required, which most likely will be some time next month.

The Deputy also raised the issue of healthcare workers in the community not being vaccinated yet. I appreciate this issue needs to be resolved. I know many GPs have been on to me - dentists as well - and it is essential that they should be included within that group - group 2 - of healthcare workers. I mean not only the GPs but also the other staff in practices who deal with the public because they are at risk too. The same applies in dentists' surgeries given the close-contact nature of the service they provide. That is something I will be taking up with the vaccine task force. I will be seeking the assurance that GPs and practice staff, as well as dentists and their staff will be vaccinated as part of group 2, as we have committed to.

Finally, we are advised that the European Medicines Agency will meet on 29 January in respect of AstraZeneca. All things going to plan, the agency will approve the vaccine and the Commission will meet that evening and approve the vaccine. That is significant because that will allow us to ramp up the number of vaccines that we are doing every week from approximately 50,000 this week to well over 100,000 in February once that vaccine becomes available.

We are part of an EU system of procurement, as the Deputy will know, so I am unsure whether it is possible to get the vaccines delivered before they are approved. Anyway, I see the point the Deputy is making. If that is possible, we could gain a few days if we could get the vaccines into fridges in GP surgeries by 29 January, but not use them until approved.

I do not know if that can be done, but it is a good idea and I will check it out.

I thank the Tánaiste for those clarifications.

My final question concerns the army of volunteers who have been working flat out in Covid testing hubs all over the country. Some of these people are members of the GAA or retired members of the Defence Forces. I even met Aer Lingus workers who are currently on leaves of absence. They are working unpaid and they epitomise the volunteer spirit in Ireland at the moment. I know that the Tánaiste and every other Member of the House fully appreciates and recognises the wonderful work they do. My question is this: is there anything more tangible we could do for these people to demonstrate the value of the work they are doing and our appreciation for it? For instance, it was mentioned to me when I visited some of them that they could be provided with perhaps One4all vouchers, fuel cards, social welfare stamps or something else more tangible. These people signed up for a couple of weeks' work last March, but a couple of weeks has turned into almost a year, with another few months to run. I would be grateful for the Tánaiste's thoughts. Has any consideration been given to providing something more meaningful, more tangible, to demonstrate our appreciation for the work these people do?

I am really glad the Deputy brought this up because it has been on my mind as well. I am conscious that a large number of volunteers are helping out in the testing centres and swabbing centres. Not only are these people giving up their time, they are also willing to put themselves at a certain degree of risk of contracting the virus. That needs to be recognised properly, so we are giving consideration to recognising their contribution in some way, perhaps through some form of honorarium. I have not worked that out exactly yet, but it would be right and appropriate that we do so.

I wish to start by wishing the Tánaiste and his family and all my colleagues in the Houses of the Oireachtas a happy and safe new year. That goes for all the people around Ireland. The time since Christmas has been difficult, with Covid-19 resulting in 172 people in intensive care and 17,000 hospitalised over Christmas. Before moving on to my questions to the Tánaiste, I wish to acknowledge and express my deep shame about what happened to the mothers, babies and children in the mother and baby homes. This wrong can never been undone. Recognising and acknowledging the shame, stigma and neglect in what happened to these mothers and their babies is the first step towards the healing of and the progress on the hurt and the humiliation. The abuse of power by the State, the Church and local authorities is totally unacceptable. I thank Deputy Connolly. She put it very well last night when she stated that it was the powerful against the powerless.

My question is this: is it okay in this country to ask a question? Is it okay in this country to be scared? Six weeks ago I was asked whether I would take the vaccine. On that same day I answered truthfully that I would have to speak to my doctors. Why? Because they were dealing with something relating to an underlying condition that I was dealing with. My doctors have told me that when the vaccine becomes available, they will advise me to take it - and I will take it. However, people have put out a stigma that it is not okay to ask a question. Vicky Phelan, who was on "The Late Late Show" last week, said she has the highest respect, as I myself do, for front-line workers and the care they provide but she also said that it is okay to question things to get the answers. My job, as a politician and as an elected representative for Limerick, is to ask the questions and look after everyone, whether or not they are in favour of taking a vaccine. My job is to encourage them. My job is to help them in whatever way I can. My advice to anyone who has concerns about the vaccine is to consult his or her GP. Who knows us best but our own GPs?

To answer the Deputy's question, it is okay to ask questions and, yes, it is okay to have doubts and to seek reassurance and information. That is entirely reasonable. During my time practising as a doctor - as a GP - I worked in vaccine clinics. People had questions and concerns and it was my job to answer their questions, give them accurate information and assuage their concerns. The Deputy and I are both on the same page in that regard. We have a very good record in Ireland when it comes to take-up of vaccines. When it comes to the childhood vaccination programme, we have take-up in the region of 95% or more, much better than many other countries, and our healthcare professionals do a good job in that regard. Our philosophy has always been to engage, explain and reassure and to give people all the facts and not to browbeat people into submission or to patronise them. It is important we are all in that space when we talk about the vaccine. That is not to say for a second that I condone or think we should tolerate the kinds of conspiracies theories, lies and misinformation we see spread, particularly online. They are wrong and should stop, but that should not be conflated with individuals, citizens and patients who have concerns and questions and who want to know about the side-effects, efficacy and safety. It is entirely right that they should ask those questions. Our job as the Government, as politicians and as healthcare professionals is to provide the information and to engage, inform and reassure. That would be the best approach as we go forward.

As things stand, far from vaccine hesitancy being a problem, the problem at the moment is supply. There are many more people who want the vaccine now than we have vaccines. I think we will achieve that 70% or 80% we need for herd immunity. As I said earlier, this vaccine will be offered to everyone. It will be free of charge. It will not be compulsory. It is safe and effective. It may be the case that this vaccine was developed more quickly than any other vaccine in the past, but no corners were cut in terms of the trials or the clinical data. People will need two doses of the vaccine to get full protection. Those two doses will be given three to six weeks apart.

I agree with every sentiment the Tánaiste has expressed. Would I be right in saying that it is not okay for one of his Ministers of State to come out and call people who were seeking medical advice and asking questions cowardly? His Minister of State representing Limerick came out and stated in a newspaper that people who ask questions are cowardly. That is completely wrong. I am asked questions every day and I give advice to the best of my ability. Then I direct and encourage people to go and get the proper advice. That is what we are here to do. I have people ringing me from University Hospital Limerick, UHL, who say they have not yet been vaccinated, but there are individuals who are not working within the hospital system and who are out on leave who have been called in for their vaccinations. Yesterday, I heard from people who have been called twice to get their vaccinations only to be told they are out of the hospital system. They were called twice to get it and now they are being told to come back in a few days' time, that the hospital might have it then. I have never questioned front-line staff - I commend them wholeheartedly - but I do question the management of certain hospitals in how they are managing this pandemic and their staff. People should not be called for vaccination if the vaccine is not available.

It is always okay to ask questions, particularly if the purpose of asking the question is to seek information. It is different when people ask questions for rhetorical reasons, namely, when they are trying to make a point rather than seeking information. We all recognise that.

As to what is happening in terms of our hospitals, there have been issues from time to time in individual hospitals and on individual days of vaccines running out and so on. By and large, however, the people who are providing our vaccines in our hospitals and healthcare settings are doing a very good job.

Sometimes, in some places and on some days, things will go awry but generally they are doing a very good job. We now expect now, certainly before the end of the month, that is, by the weekend after this, that everybody in and working in a nursing home will have been offered their first dose. They also will have had their second dose by the middle of February. It must be borne in mind that over 60% of deaths occurred to people who were residents in nursing homes and one should think of the different space we could be in within a few weeks' time when we have achieved that. We intend that all healthcare workers will have received their first and second dose by the end of February. We can then move on to the over-70s, who are the next group, and that will be done generally through GPs and pharmacies.

On the point on which the Tánaiste has concluded, I raised with the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, yesterday the specific vulnerability of people who are in receipt of home care. They need to be specifically prioritised because they may have two to three different carers coming in every day and those carers are going into several houses every day, of necessity.

As someone who has repeatedly called for testing at airports, which I first raised with the Tánaiste and the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, last April, I welcome the introduction of an airport testing regime. I worry, however, that this particular testing regime may not achieve what it has set out to achieve and may in fact have some unintended consequences.

What is happening at our ports? Is there a similar testing regime at our ports and, in particular, in airports in Northern Ireland? I am aware that Belfast International Airport is offering testing for outgoing passengers but I am not aware of a similar requirement for incoming passengers. If there is not a similar regime for ports and airports in Northern Ireland, and indeed ports here, we are then effectively closing the windows to keep the cold out while leaving the front door open. We have an open border with Northern Ireland and there has to be a degree of co-ordination in that regard.

As the Tánaiste will be aware, it is generally accepted and was explained by Dr. Colm Henry to the Covid-19 committee that polymerase chain reaction, PCR, testing will identify as positive someone who has had Covid-19 recently but is no longer infectious. This specific query comes from a constituent but I am sure it is a common issue right across the country. One employee of my constituent went back to England for Christmas, developed Covid-19 and, like the majority albeit not everybody, recovered and is no longer infected by it. However, if this person does a PCR test now, it will be positive and will still detect Covid-19 for some time, even though the person is not infectious right now. Science would suggest that this person has the least chance of redeveloping it or becoming infectious, hence the suggestion that people not be vaccinated perhaps for six months because there is a period when the risk is relatively low. In those circumstances, are these people precluded from coming to Ireland even though they are essential workers and are needed for essential work? Can the test be modified in those specific circumstances for someone who has been positive and will therefore test positive, even though that person clearly is not infectious?

Under the new rules, any person entering the State through our ports or airports will have to have had a PCR test with a negative result within 72 hours of their arrival. The only exception that is being made is for people who are transport workers in that supply chain, such as hauliers, cabin crew and pilots, for obvious reasons. Some exceptions are made on compassionate grounds where someone needs to get back to the country very quickly because they may have a dying parent or child or something on those lines. Those are the only exceptions being considered at the moment.

PCR testing is not 100% and will miss some positives and there will be false negatives but it is the most accurate test that we have. Having had the PCR test does not mean that the person does not have to quarantine. The green, amber and red rules still apply as to restrictive movements and so on, once one arrives in the country. The objective in doing this is, first of all, to reduce the amount of international travel in order that only those who genuinely need to travel are doing so for essential reasons. The second objective is that by requiring the test one is reducing the risk. We have seen 97% to 98% compliance now with people flying in from Great Britain and it considerably reduces the risk.

People often ask why this was not done before. There are many reasons, not least of which was the availability of PCR testing months ago. The biggest problem with it is Northern Ireland and the fact that one can fly into Belfast, for example, from Britain, and perhaps even other parts of the world through Britain, without having a negative PCR test. This is something that we are engaging with the Northern Ireland Executive on but it is an area in which Sinn Féin, in particular, can be helpful. I often hear Deputy Doherty or Deputy McDonald on the TV and radio speaking as though Sinn Féin is not in government anywhere on this island. It is in Northern Ireland, it co-chairs the Executive there and has a responsibility to do the one useful thing it could do to help us battle the pandemic, which is to convince its coalition partners and the Northern Ireland Executive to bring in the same rules for people entering Northern Ireland from Britain and elsewhere. If we just do this here in the Republic, it will not be enough as it needs to be done in Northern Ireland as well. Constantly calling for an all-Ireland strategy is not good enough, as one has to do everything one can to achieve it. There is a particular responsibility now on the Sinn Féin Party, which co-chairs the Executive in Northern Ireland, to convince the other parties to do exactly that.

My specific question was whether the Government will look at exempting people who will test positive because they have had Covid-19, have gone through the symptoms and recovered, although they are not infectious and are essential workers.

The other thing that I have repeatedly called for is that NPHET and the Department of Health look at vitamin D supplements. We know that we cannot give the vaccine to everybody who requires it now but we can give vitamin D to everybody. I am not suggesting that it is as efficacious as a vaccine but the overwhelming evidence is that it is beneficial both in terms of preventing people getting Covid-19 and in reducing the impact of Covid-19 if they do get it. The risk of toxicity is very low so there is little to lose and much to gain. I asked the Department of Health this question and received a parliamentary reply saying that it would continue to look at the matter. There is more and more evidence being published in The Lancet and the British Medical Journal, that is, in reputable scientific journals, to suggest that benefits accrue from this while people are waiting for a vaccine.

For now, the only exceptions to having to have a negative PCR test result on coming into the country are if one is under six years of age, if one is part of the transport supply chain such as the pilot, cabin crew or haulier or for compassionate grounds where someone needs to race back to the country in an emergency. We can consider further exceptions into the future and I will take up what the Deputy has mentioned with our medical people and scientists. We want to see first how this works before we start adding new exceptions, which I believe the Deputy will understand. Thus far, at least with people coming from Britain, it is working very well. More than 97% of people arriving in Ireland from Britain through our airports have had the negative test. As to the other 3%, that is a matter for the Garda and the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP.

The jury is still out on vitamin D supplementation. There is some evidence suggesting that it could be beneficial. I am not going to do a Donald Trump here and recommend remdesivir, chloroquine or anything else until we are in a position that we have more conclusive evidence as to whether it is beneficial. Again that is something I will take up with our medical people.

I thank the Tánaiste.