Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Before we start, I ask Deputies for their co-operation with the time limits.

Mar gheall ar pholasaí Fhine Gael agus Fhianna Fáil, ní bheidh a teach féin ag mórchuid d'oibrithe ar fud an Stáit. Oibríonn na daoine so go dícheallach agus go crua. Chíonn siad ó tuairisc na seachtaine seo nach bhfuil toil pholaitiúil ag an Rialtas le luach na dtithe seo a ísliú. Tá an gnáthduine fágtha ar leataobh gan teach ar phraghas réasúnta le fáil acu. Tá an dóchas imithe ag na hoibrithe agus na teaghlaigh seo go mbeidh a dteach féin acu. Is ar an Rialtas atá an locht.

This week, the Society of Chartered Surveyors released the Real Costs of New Apartment Delivery 2020 report. The report reveals the full development and purchase costs of residential housing developments in Dublin and its commuter belt for last year. For workers and families looking to buy or rent an affordable home, it made for very grim reading. The cheapest apartment detailed in the report was €359,000. To buy that, a working couple would need to have a deposit of €36,000 and a gross income of over €90,000. The cheapest apartments in Dublin city centre cost a staggering €439,000. To buy that property, a couple would need a deposit of €44,000 and a gross salary of €112,000. The Tánaiste knows as well as I do that these prices are beyond the reach of the vast majority of workers and families in this State.

Under the watch of Fine Gael in government, the price of homes has risen so high that working people on good incomes can no longer afford to buy their own home. That is the reality. An entire generation of workers has been locked out of home ownership. That is why 70% of the apartments outlined in the report of the Society of Chartered Surveyors are not even for sale. They are being developed for a build-to-rent market, snapped up by institutional investors, vulture funds or so-called cuckoo funds that are exploiting the scarcity of housing to turn over massive profits. They have been aided and abetted in doing so by a tax regime brought in by a Fine Gael Government that gives them the upper hand over workers and families. The rents they charge are excessive and a disgrace. In Dublin suburbs and the commuter belt, rents now range from €1,800 to €2,000 per month. Here in Dublin, a month's rent will set a renter back between €2,200 and €2,600. If ever there was proof of how broken our housing system is, this is it.

The Tánaiste said that he would stand up for those who got up early in the morning to go to work. What about the hard-working people, especially young people, who get up every morning but cannot afford to rent or buy a home? They are paying huge rents and cannot afford a home, or they are forced to live far away from their work and families, condemned to spend hours making the long commute to work, day in and day out. There is another cohort of people who are living at home with their parents. This is not only an issue in Dublin but is repeated throughout the State.

The former Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, repeatedly promised to deliver 6,200 affordable homes by 2021. Not one of those has been delivered; not one. Does the Tánaiste accept that Fine Gael's housing policy has failed these families? Does he accept that proposals brought forward by Fine Gael have fuelled this issue? What is he going to do to deliver affordable homes for working people who want to rent or buy?

I thank the Deputy. All of us in this House acknowledge that the cost of housing in Ireland is far too high, particularly for those who want to buy their first home. Those costs are very high relative to people's incomes. That is particularly so in the cities, especially in central Dublin to where the report the Deputy referenced refers.

I note that the whole premise of the Deputy's question was to compare the housing record of my party in government with his party's record. It is fair that we do exactly that. When it comes to housing, Sinn Féin is for it in principle but always seems to be against it in practice. Its record, whether in Northern Ireland or in local authorities in this State, is very poor when it comes to providing social housing, keeping rents down and permitting builders to build houses that people need to buy.

What is the solution? More social housing is, of course, a part of the solution. More social housing benefits everyone, not only people who are on the housing list, but also people who are renting in the private sector because it helps to bring down the general cost of housing for those who do not qualify for social housing. That is why we need to build much more of it.

Deputy Doherty mentioned Deputy Eoghan Murphy. In 2019, the last year in which he was the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, we added 6,000 units to our social housing stock. North of the Border, where Sinn Féin is in government and has been for 13 of the last 20 years, much less social housing has been provided on a per capita basis. Sinn Féin provided less social housing than Deputy Eoghan Murphy in 2019. That is Sinn Féin's record and that is a verifiable fact.

When it comes to private housing, we need to build more of that because people need homes to buy and people in Ireland want to own their own homes. That is true of 65% or 70% of people and we want to make that a reality for as many people as we can. However, Sinn Féin representatives on local authorities across Ireland vote against zoning land for housing, housing developments, social housing and mixed housing of all sorts. That is particularly verifiable in Dublin City Council and other areas.

We have the help-to-buy scheme which Sinn Féin is against. That scheme is there to help people with their deposits, allowing them to reclaim some of the income tax they have paid in previous years. Sinn Féin has consistently opposed that but it has helped thousands of people to get their deposits together and buy their first home.

We also have rent pressure zones which were brought in to moderate and control rents. While they have not brought rents down, they have been successful in slowing rent inflation, making sure that, in many parts of the country, the maximum rent increase is 4% and, in many cases, is much lower than that. Contrast that with Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, where it voted to increase rents. These are the facts. Sinn Féin built fewer social houses in 2019 than Deputy Eoghan Murphy did as the Fine Gael Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. Sinn Féin votes to increase rents in Northern Ireland. It opposes the building of new homes on local authorities across Ireland. Sinn Féin would make a bad situation much worse.

Seriously, what planet is the Tánaiste living on? It is time for him to get his head out of the sand. The Tánaiste has been in government for ten years. The Tánaiste was Taoiseach for a period of that time, yet he tries to blame everybody else for this issue. That does not wash. The reality is that this is his housing crisis. It costs €439,000 to buy the cheapest apartment in Dublin city. Under his Governments over the past ten years, people are paying rents of up to €2,600 per month, yet the Tánaiste wants to blame everybody else. He knows the facts fine well. Sinn Féin has not opposed a single social or affordable housing development in Dublin. Contrast that with the Tánaiste's councillors who have voted against thousands of social and affordable housing schemes in Clondalkin and Tallaght. That is the reality of it. The Tánaiste has been told time and time again that some of the policies that he has introduced are fuelling house prices. Do not take Sinn Féin's word for it. The help-to-buy scheme has been attacked by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, which stated it will push up house prices and that is exactly what it is doing.

Look at the shared equity scheme that the Government is introducing. The most senior civil servant in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said that the scheme is about lining the pockets of developers.

Thank you, Deputy.

What does Deputy Leo Varadkar do? He talks about introducing this scheme.

Go raibh maith agat, a Theachta.

"Let us push house prices up further." Is that your policy Leo? Is it to push rents up further? That is what has happened-----

Go raibh maith agat, Deputy.

What is the Tánaiste going to do about it?

For anyone who decides to write or review this debate, the record should state that it was the Deputy who got personal, both towards Deputy Eoghan Murphy and me. It was the Deputy who was partisan, attacking Fine Gael, my party, by name rather than talking about the Government. It is important that is recognised. Having been personal and partisan, it is only fair that I should be allowed to stand my ground and defend myself as a person and defend my party and my colleagues.

What about the prices?

The fact is that the Deputy's party, Sinn Féin, has been in government for 13 of the past 20 years in Northern Ireland. It has been in government on this island longer than my party has in the past 20 years. Sinn Féin is a party of government, an establishment party north of the Border. When it comes to social housing, its record is not good. It built fewer social houses in Northern Ireland in recent years than we have added to the social housing stock south of the Border, certainly since 2016. Sinn Féin increased local authority rents in Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin councillors did that and cannot blame anyone else for it.

Sinn Féin voted against plenty of mixed housing developments here in this city.

That is not true.

Give examples.

I thank the Tánaiste.

Sinn Féin also opposed the help-to-buy scheme, which has helped thousands of people to buy their first home.

Go raibh maith agat, a Thánaiste.

What are you going on about? You created this problem. What are you going to do about it?

You need to take something to calm down. You are a very angry man.

Tá mé ag bogadh ar aghaidh go dtí Páirtí an Lucht Oibre. Más é bhur dtoil é, tá Cathaoirleach anseo agus tá mé ag déanamh mo dhícheall. Glaoim ar an Teachta Kelly.

Before I get on to the main issue I want to ask the Tánaiste a question. The Minister for Health was in the Chamber earlier. I asked him how many vaccines were brought into the country this week. He said 48,000. He is wrong. According to figures given to a number of journalists, in particular Craig Hughes, who has published them in the past few minutes, it was 23,570. How can a Minister come into the House and not know how many vaccines came into the country this week? Will the Tánaiste please address that with the Government? It is scary, very scary, as was the Minister's performance.

The Tánaiste is on record as saying he does not believe in zero Covid. I do not believe in the phrase "zero Covid" myself, but I do believe in the tenets of it. I believe in an aggressive national suppression strategy. Let us be frank. I am trying to be constructive. The Government has made lots of mistakes during this crisis. The Opposition has also made mistakes. There is no point in going through them. We all know. It is a case of hands up on all sides. We now know the vaccine will not be the panacea for 2021 that we thought it would be. It is going to take a lot longer, so we need to work on suppressing the virus. The Taoiseach has said it will be a long-term suppression strategy. I want to get to the point of distinguishing the difference between the Government's long-term strategy and what many of us in the Opposition are saying. We need to give people a chance of some form of normality in 2021, whether it is for funerals of close family members, which I have experienced myself recently, weddings, community, sport or getting the hospitality sector back up and running. I believe the public are ahead of us. Conor McMorrow's report on "Prime Time" last Tuesday night was the straw that broke the camel's back. We saw flights coming in from a number of destinations, but Lanzarote in particular. We heard they were full of Irish people. Everybody is making such sacrifices. The public are ahead of us and they want us to suppress the virus. As part of that, they want to see people being quarantined when they come into this country, not the half-baked strategy that is there already. We must also have a strategy for the Border - I believe the Government has taken on board some of our suggestions in that regard - and also on managing airports. Then, panzer-like, we can focus in on where the virus is in the community and suppress it. With the vaccines coming, we then give an opening to this country and bring back people's civil liberties and what they are allowed to do.

I thank the Deputy.

Will the Government travel this road with us? Is it the case that we do not have the legislation or the infrastructure in place, but that the Government will travel the same road as many of us are suggesting?

Go raibh maith agat, a Theachta.

I hope that is the space the Government is going into.

I thank the Deputy. I welcome the constructive suggestions that have come from the Labour Party in recent weeks. He is right; neither the Government, the Opposition, any government, NPHET nor any expert has got everything right when it comes to managing this pandemic. What we all hope is that when this is over we will have been seen to have got most things right most of the time. I know the Deputy does not like the term zero Covid. Labour is proposing a different strategy, which is that of aggressive suppression. I think that is a term that is often used in Australia to describe the strategy in some states there. We do need to move away from slogans to the actual detail as to what different strategies mean. As I mentioned yesterday, if one asks supporters or advocates of zero Covid, it means different things to different people. For some people it is a long, hard lockdown to get to zero community transmission for 14 days in a row. For others, one does not have to get to zero at all; it is just about best endeavours to get there. For some, it is all about mandatory hotel quarantine at ports and airports. For others, it is about lots of other things. I agree with some things such as aggressive test, trace and isolate, mass antigen testing and others I do not agree with such as a de facto hard Border between North and South, preventing people from moving north and south or turning some of our Border counties into buffer zones. However, I do think there needs to be a detailed debate and discussion on these issues. We need to talk about the practicalities and we also need to talk about the pros and cons. Nobody should enter any discussion or debate on these matters by ruling out any strategy or dismissing or rejecting any proposals or suggestions. That is very much my approach and that of the Government.

As Deputy Kelly will be aware, our strategy now is to get Covid levels down. We want to get numbers down as low as is possible. I do not know how low that is, but as low as is possible between now and 5 March. That then will allow us to click back in with our testing and contact tracing to keep a handle on the virus so that it does not slip out of our control once again. In that period, we do want to bring about the phased reopening of schools, starting with children with special and additional needs, for reasons that people understand. During that period as well, we are cracking down very severely on international travel. International travel is already down 97%. We already require people entering the country to have a negative PCR test result. If they do not have that, they will be subject to mandatory hotel quarantine. People coming from high-risk countries such as Brazil and South Africa are going to be subject to mandatory hotel quarantine whether they have a negative test result or not. It is our intention to expand that, as we develop the capability and capacity to do so. We do not have that now, but we are building it up and it will allow us to extend mandatory hotel quarantine more widely as the weeks go on.

I welcome the fact that the Tánaiste said he is not stuck on one policy or one strategy and that he is open to looking at what I and others are proposing now. I predict he will end up coming closer to us. I do not say that everything I say is 100% the way to go, but we are willing to work with the Government to ensure the best strategy. The public have had enough. We cannot go through 2021 the same way as 2020, with the numbers going up and down. When we get the numbers down, we have to keep them down.

In fairness to the Tánaiste, in recent days he said we have to save the summer holidays, there will possibly be no travel at Christmas, yet on 4 March we will exit to level 4. His position has moved. What I am saying quite clearly is that through a suppression strategy based on bringing in the legislation and the quarantine infrastructure and doing all that I said, and more, we can get to that point and keep it there. I know the Tánaiste likes to be on the right side of an issue and of history.

I thank the Deputy.

I urge him to come with us on this road and to adopt this strategy.

I thank the Deputy.

It may take a little bit of time and it might take legislation but we can do it quickly.

We may well end up in the same place. There are lots of things that we have done in the past year to fight this pandemic that I never thought we would do. The Government and I will always keep an open mind on these things. We may not be as far apart as people may think. When we have a discussion like this, in slogans, it misses the detail. This is the complexity of what we have to deal with and there are a number of things that we will have to do to defeat the pandemic. There is no silver bullet or single action that will make it all right this summer. Unfortunately, that is not a promise that anyone can make or keep.

Our strategy is to suppress the virus, to get as low as we can go over the next couple of weeks, to roll out and speed up vaccination because that will change the picture- again, it is not a panacea, but it will change the picture considerably - and for us only to open up where it is safe and sustainable to do so. We do not want to go to level 4 on 5 March only to have to go back again three or four weeks later. That is the very strong demand from the public now. They want to know that if we are going to ease restrictions on 5 March or whenever, that it will be sustained.

Go raibh maith agat, a Thánaiste.

Nobody should say "permanent". No matter what strategy one has, there is the risk of having to reimpose lockdowns. Unfortunately, we have seen that.

We have seen that in Melbourne.

People want to know that whatever we do is going to be sustainable.

I must go back to the issue of capacity in our hospitals and to a question I put to the Taoiseach previously that he refused to answer. I refer to the closure of St. Brigid's hospital, Carrick-on-Suir, a wonderful facility that is over 200 years old. HIQA has deemed it unsuitable. However, it was deemed suitable for use as a Covid-19 hospital by HIQA at the beginning of the pandemic. If it was deemed suitable for Covid patients, how is it not suitable now for providing respite and palliative care? It is a 14-bed hospital, with three palliative care beds and wonderful staff. The hospital has enjoyed huge buy-in from the community and huge support. Indeed, much of the equipment in it was provided by local community fundraising efforts in three counties, namely, south Tipperary, south Kilkenny and east Waterford. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Butler, has refused to meet Councillors Kieran Bourke and David Dunne, the action committee or the staff, the excellent nurses and doctors associated with the hospital. She has point-blank refused to meet them. I ask the Tánaiste, as a member of a partnership Government, to ensure that the Minister of State meets the people to whom I refer.

I have received a letter from the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, who is a neighbour from down the road. Her own constituents use this hospital, which flies in the face of what she is doing. The letter states that another wonderful facility, St. Theresa's hospital, Clogheen, and nursing homes have been booked for step-down and respite care but that is simply untrue. Last Thursday, Covid patients were admitted to St. Theresa's hospital, Clogheen, and all other patients were moved out, under the supervision and management of its wonderful matron, Ms Walsh, and her team. There have been no negotiations with private nursing homes.

We are told that a new hospital would cost €5 million to €6 million and I want that examined. I want an independent arbitrator to evaluate what is wrong with St. Brigid's and how much it would cost to put it right in order to reach HIQA standards. This was done in Clogheen two years ago. An excellent job was done, with six-bed wards converted to four-bed wards. There is room for an extension on site and there is also room to build a new hospital on site.

The Minister of State refers to a diabetic clinic in St. Brigid's but a huge monstrosity has already been built by the HSE. It is meant to be a primary care centre but it is not functioning properly. It is two-thirds empty and a diabetic clinic could be located there. I want answers from the Tánaiste today. The people want to know how much it would cost to make the hospital HIQA-compliant. Other hospitals that got worse reports from HIQA were commandeered for Covid-19 and have now reverted to normal hospitals. There is something vindictive going on with regard to St. Brigid's. The Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, must meet the staff and the action committee to explain what is happening. Something is not right here. We are not getting the full truth or even half of it. This is an excellent facility and the palliative care beds therein are badly needed. There are only two palliative care beds in Clogheen and none at all in Clonmel. Palliative care beds are badly needed in the south east of Tipperary. Clogheen is now off the radar because it is being used as a Covid-19 step-down facility. St. Brigid's in Carrick-on-Suir was available for that purpose but the HSE decided to close it in the middle of a pandemic. Talk about iillogical. This strange and bizarre decision is totally unacceptable and it will not be accepted.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. In terms of the overall picture on hospital capacity, everyone acknowledges that we are doing so much better now than has been the case for a very long time. January is usually a period when our hospitals have no spare beds and when we hear every morning about hundreds of people being forced to spend some of their hospital stay on trolleys. As of today, for example, we have 400 to 500 beds free across our system. There were 121 patients on trolleys this morning but mainly for clinical reasons. In Clonmel this morning there is nobody on a hospital trolley awaiting admission to a bed. The Deputy will know how different that is from the experience that we have often had at this time of year in our hospitals. That is down to the winter plan, the additional bed capacity in our hospitals and in the community and the amazing work of the staff in our hospitals and across our health service.

I do not have an up-to-date note on St. Brigid's with me but I know the Deputy has raised it previously. My understanding is that it was closed to overnight patients because it did not meet HIQA standards but it will continue to be developed as a healthcare hub for the area, including a diabetic clinic which the Deputy mentioned, as well as primary and community care. I will get more information on it for the Deputy and will let the Minister for Health and the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, know that he has raised it again in the House.

There is one final thing I wish to say before finishing up. I want to recognise the very considerable milestone that was reached yesterday, namely, that 3 million polymerase chain reaction, PCR, tests have been carried out in Ireland since the pandemic began. That is more tests per head than many of the countries with which we are often compared like Germany, Finland and Australia. I congratulate everybody working in our testing system in the laboratories, swabbing centres and in management in back offices, for having reached that considerable milestone. They deserve to be congratulated for that.

I do not know why the Tánaiste cannot answer the question I asked. I accept that he does not have up-to-date information on St. Brigid's but I asked why a hospital that was deemed to be suitable for Covid patients last March was deemed unsuitable for any overnight patients in November. That is a simple question. I also ask that Ministers and the HSE stop sending out letters that are untrue. I do not want to use the word "lies" but it is untrue to say that Clogheen is available because it has now been designated as a Covid hospital, which is a pity.

The Tánaiste spoke about trolleys and referred to the national figures. I salute those on the front line, including the nursing staff and deplore the way they have been blackguarded with regard to vaccines and so forth. However, the hospitals are empty or have capacity because the fear of God has been put into the people by RTÉ and by the Tánaiste himself. He appeared on Claire Byrne's show the other night and told the people that they are going to be locked up forever. Fear has been instilled in people, which is having an effect on their mental health. That is why the hospitals do not have people in them like every other year. People are afraid of their lives. They cannot go to their GPs in my area and can only speak to them over the phone. They are sent straight in for a Covid test, which is why we have such a high number of tests. Fear is stalking the land. That is why the hospitals have spare capacity, although I am glad they have capacity. That said, the Government wasted eight or nine months when it did not build additional ICU capacity.

People have good reason to be afraid. This pandemic is real. There are 3,000 families across the country who have lost loved ones and are still grieving for them. Had it not been for the actions that people took individually and as a community, as well as the actions that Government took, we would be experiencing much higher levels of mortality and sickness than we have now. At least until we have a critical mass of the population vaccinated and we develop new treatments, there are reasons for people to be afraid.

We have increased ICU capacity. As the Deputy knows, ICU is not just about a bed but is a whole system of care. We have the beds and we have the kits but training up the staff has to be done over a period of years. We have increased ICU capacity and are using that surge capacity at the moment. It is encouraging that the number of patients in hospital is now falling. It peaked at around 2,000 and is at around 1,700 now and we will see that reflected in the ICU numbers in the coming days.

I wish to raise the issue of vitamin D supplementation as part of a suite of measures to help to protect our citizens against Covid-19. We all know that the vaccination roll-out will be somewhat delayed and we still do not know if the vaccine will prevent transmission of the virus. We also know that many new variants are emerging and will continue to emerge over the next period. Therefore, it is pretty clear that the fight against Covid-19 nationally and globally will be much longer than we had hoped. I am being as positive as I can be in saying that.

All ways and means that we have as individuals to protect ourselves, those we care for, our neighbours and friends should be deployed. I have listened to many medics, including Professor Luke O'Neill. This morning he recognised and supported the role of vitamin D in boosting the immune system and thus helping to protect people from different viruses, including Covid-19. I believe that the UK is about to mandate vitamin D supplementation to help protect its citizens. I acknowledge that there have been no double-blind placebo chemical trials but more and more medics, as opposed to alternative healthcare practitioners, are saying that vitamin D has a positive impact.

The Tánaiste and all other Members want to ensure that our citizens have the very best protection. We agree with the overall approach involving handwashing, the wearing of masks and social distancing, but vitamin D supplementation has a role to play. In my view, and in that of many medics in this country and across the globe, this role is significant. One way or the other, vitamin D plays an important role in supporting our immune systems in fighting Covid-19. That is also what vaccines do. Vaccines do not kill Covid-19, they help our immune systems to fight it. Vitamin D can do likewise. Will the Tánaiste look at the advice in respect of vitamin D supplementation?

I thank Deputy Harkin for raising this issue because I know it has been a topic of discussion among the general public and among healthcare professionals over recent weeks. The issue was previously raised by Deputy McNamara so I looked into it. As everyone in the House knows, many Irish people are deficient in vitamin D, not least because we do not have much exposure to the sun, a situation that is now worse than ever because that people are unable to travel to sunshine destinations. There is evidence that vitamin D may be of benefit in the context of Covid-19 outcomes and there is very little evidence that the taking of vitamin D supplements causes harm. There is research on this matter from Spain, from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, from Trinity and from TU Dublin and articles have been published in the Irish Medical Journal. The respected medical journal, The Lancet, says that it is uncontroversial to promote it and that it may be beneficial with regard to Covid-19 outcomes. Government has asked the NPHET to examine the issue and to provide us with formal advice which we can stand over and give to the general public.

The HSE says that people do not need vitamin D in their diet every day because it does not need to be immediately stored for future use. However, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the HSE recommend that all babies receive a vitamin D supplement during their first year of life. Vitamin D3 is the preferred form of the supplement for infants. Most people should be able to get enough vitamin D by eating a varied and balanced diet and getting some sun, if possible, although that is very hard at the moment, as people will know. If one takes vitamin D supplements, one should be careful not to take too much. Taking 25 mcg or less per day is unlikely to cause any harm and may be of some benefit.

I am pleased to hear that, like many people, the Tánaiste is open to the real possibility - in my view it is a certainty - that vitamin D supplementation may help. The European Food Safety Authority has concluded that a cause-and-effect relationship has been established between dietary intake of vitamin D and normal functioning of the immune system. The Tánaiste has mentioned this. We know that we do not have enough sunshine in this part of the world to ensure a sufficient dietary intake. Vitamin D protects the immune system, which is the single most important weapon we have to protect us against Covid-19. It is more important than masks, social distancing and so on. Our immune system protects our bodies. I ask the Tánaiste to give the strongest possible consideration to looking at the possibility that supplementation with vitamin D, along with all of the other measures, could help to protect our citizens.

I again thank the Deputy. As I am sure she will appreciate, notwithstanding my background as a doctor, I am here as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and do not wish to dispense medical advice as to which supplements people should or should not take. As the Deputy stated, there is evidence that vitamin D can be beneficial in the context of Covid-19 and there is very little evidence that taking supplements of 25 mcg per day does any harm. We have asked NPHET to examine the matter and to give us further advice, which we can then share with the public, as to whether we should issue a general public advisory in this regard. It is to be hoped that we will have that advice soon.