Last night the Taoiseach announced measures to curb the Covid-19 surge. Nobody wanted a backwards step in the progress won over a long, hard and often heartbreaking 18 months. We now find ourselves in a very difficult situation. Difficult situations require decisive leadership, forward planning and thoughtful management, all of which are absent from the Taoiseach’s Government. Indeed, there has been Government paralysis facing into this wave of infection. The surge in Covid-19 numbers did not happen overnight. Public health officials have been ringing the alarm bells loudly for weeks. That is why it is so very difficult to understand the Government’s dithering, delaying and indecision on antigen testing, the resourcing of our health services and on the booster vaccination campaign.
The use of antigen testing was recommended as far back as last April, but on the radio this morning the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, still could not detail any plan. Other countries are streets ahead of us on antigen testing, with free and subsidised schemes to reduce costs for people. The Government's failure to prepare to increase capacity in our health service is demonstrated in its winter plan and it leaves us dangerously exposed. The lack of pace and planning around the booster campaign has also set us back. The majority of healthcare workers were ready for their third dose in October, but many will not now be done until December. A quick and efficient roll-out of boosters was a no-brainer and, again, other countries have been up and at it much faster.
The only thing the Government seems capable of doing quickly is shutting things down. The Taoiseach can call it whatever he wants, but he has effectively shut down the late-night sector with less than 48 hours' notice and no consultation. Three weeks ago, the Taoiseach announced the reopening of this sector and last night he closed it back down like the flick of a switch. This is a massive blow to workers and businesses in the live entertainment and late-night industries that have endured a devastating 18 months. Now, weeks before Christmas and with the cost of living soaring, these workers are prevented from earning again. The Taoiseach told the Dáil yesterday that there is no plan to reopen the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, or to delay cuts to it. The Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, reiterated that position on the radio this morning. This is not a runner.
This shutdown stops thousands of workers earning the money they need to pay their bills. They and families must be protected. The message from the Government to these workers so far, that they should go and find another job, is deeply insulting. These are skilled people, such as musicians, event planners, DJs, comedians and entertainers, and it is important that their skills are maintained within their sector so that it has the chance to flourish when it reopens. Tá easpa pleanála agus ullmhúcháin an Rialtais leis an mborradh Covid seo do-ghlactha. Ní mór a chinntiú go gcoinnítear tacaíochtaí d'oibrithe agus do ghnóthaí a bhfuil thíos leis an dúnadh. I want the Taoiseach to tell the workers and employers affected by this shutdown that they will be provided with the PUP, that the cuts will be halted and that they will be supported.