Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (531, 541)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

531. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Health the construction works that are deemed essential, given the apparent grey area between essential and non-essential construction that is being exploited on many sites; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2471/21]

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Bríd Smith

Question:

541. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Health if he will clarify the position on the definitions of essential and non-essential workplaces and services during the Covid-19 crisis and level 5 restrictions, specifically the definition that applies to the construction sites of companies such as a company (details supplied); the definition that applies to FDI firms and construction work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2505/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 531 and 541 together.

As you will be aware, Ireland is at level 5 of the Government's medium-term Strategy Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19. This 5-level framework sets out what is permitted for social or family gatherings, work and public transport, bars, hotels and restaurants, exercise activities and religious services, at that moment in time.

The measures in place for each level reflect the prevailing disease situation and recognise that we can and must prioritise some activities and services over others.

Information in relation to the public health measures with regard to essential services and construction at level 5 is available at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2dc71-level-5/ and https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2dc71-level-5/#construction.

The Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No. 10) Regulations 2020 Regulation (S.I. 701 of 2020), sets out the relevant businesses or services under the current public health measures, which are deemed essential.

SI No. 4 of 2021 also provides information on what are essential construction and developments.

Statutory Instruments related to the Covid-19 pandemic are available here: https://www.gov.ie/en/collection/1f150-view-statutory-instruments-related-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/

The Deputy should note that my Department does not have responsibility for the construction sector. The shutdown of the construction sector (including the construction and developments permitted to continue), was confirmed by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage by press release on the 6 January, 2021. Further information on these projects is available here:- https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/53a69-minister-obrien-confirms-shutdown-in-construction-activity/

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (532)

Francis Noel Duffy

Question:

532. Deputy Francis Noel Duffy asked the Minister for Health if he will consider requesting optical retailers to open only for emergency services on an appointment-only basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2472/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Optician and optometrist premises are allowed to open during the current Covid-19 pandemic as they provide essential health services. However, in accordance with current Level 5 restrictions, any retail parts of such premises should not be open to the general public for browsing.

Disabilities Assessments

Questions (533)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

533. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Health if the assessment of need of a person (details supplied) will be prioritised following cancellation of the assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2476/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

The Programme for Government, Our Shared Future, recognises the need to improve services for both children and adults with disabilities through better implementation and by working together across Government in a better way.

The Government commits to prioritising early diagnosis and access to services for children and ensuring that the most effective interventions are provided for each child, to guarantee the best outcomes.

As this is a service matter I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Health Promotion

Questions (534, 535)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

534. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Health the status of the national physical activity plan in view of the fact that the plan ran from 2016 to 2020; if the plan will be continued; if not, if a new plan will be developed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2495/21]

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Louise O'Reilly

Question:

535. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Health the status of the review of the national physical activity plan in view of the fact that the plan ran from 2016 to 2020; the way in which the measures were implemented; the remaining outstanding measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2496/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 534 and 535 together.

Get Ireland Active! – the National Physical Activity Plan for Ireland was launched on 14 January, 2016. The key target identified in the Plan is to increase the number of people taking regular exercise by 1% per annum over the lifetime of the Plan, to be achieved by making physical activity a normal part of everyday life and giving people more opportunities to be active.

The goal is to create an environment where everybody lives, works and plays in a society that facilitates, promotes and supports physical activity and an active way of life, with less time spent being sedentary.

The NPAP has a wide scope, including action areas that address public communication, children and young people, health, the environment (both natural and built), workplaces, community sport and physical activity and research, monitoring and evaluation. These action areas have been implemented through partnership with a wide range of stakeholders from across the various sectors and significant progress has been made.

Key achievements to date include:

- Incorporation of physical activity as a key element of the Healthy Ireland National Communications Campaigns, including the current Keep Well campaign aimed at supporting resilience in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic;

- Supporting the Department of Education in the provision of physical activity and physical education in schools, including support for the Active School Flag programme;

- Establishment of the Healthy Ireland Fund, which provides significant supports for sport and physical activity initiatives and has a focus on supporting measures aimed at disadvantaged groups or communities, children and young families;

- Extension of the number of Community Sport and Physical Activity Hubs;

- Continued expansion of community walking groups under the Get Ireland Walking Strategy;

- Engagement with key stakeholders to progress actions aimed at increasing national participation in physical activity, including support for the European Week Of Sport in September every year;

- Co-ordination and implementation of the aims and objectives of the NPAP with the National Sports Policy 2018 – 2027;

- Progressing research into effective physical activity interventions, both through the Research Sub-Group and on an all-island basis through the Irish Physical Activity Research Collaboration (iPARC);

- Monitoring levels of physical activity, both for use in domestic policy development and to meet our international reporting requirements, through the Irish Sports Monitor, the Healthy Ireland Survey, the all-island Children's Sport Participation and Physical Activity Study and the international Health Behaviours in School-Aged Children Study;

- Considering the role of the environment, both built and natural, in enabling and promoting physical activity (a Stakeholder Forum on this topic was held in late 2018).

It had been intended to conduct a review of the current NPAP in 2020; however, this was delayed as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. The National Physical Activity Plan Implementation Group has therefore formally agreed that the policy will be extended to the end of 2021 and a review will take place in 2021.

Significant progress has been made on almost all of the 60 actions within the defined timeframes; more details will be available through the 2019 NPAP Progress Report, which will be published shortly.

Whilst many of the actions can be deemed to be completed, further progress will continue to be made pursuant to ongoing actions, past the target dates set out in the original plan. The proposed review will identify any outstanding actions which may need to be redefined or progressed further. It is intended that the Review will also include recommendations regarding refreshing, renewing or extending the National Physical Activity Plan for the years ahead.

Health Promotion

Questions (536)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

536. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Health the status of the national physical activity plan implementation group; if it continues to oversee the progress of the plan; the frequency with which the group has met from the start of 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2497/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

An Implementation Group was established in 2016 to progress the recommendations of the National Physical Activity Plan. It is co-chaired by the Departments of Health and Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

It includes representatives from the Departments of Education, Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and Rural and Community Development. The HSE, Sport Ireland, the Federation of Irish Sport, the Local Government Management Association and the academic sector are also represented.

The Group met twice online in 2020, in May and in December, and will continue to meet and oversee the final elements of implementation in 2021.

Given the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Group has decided to formally extend the end date of the National Physical Activity Plan to the end of 2021.

Health Promotion

Questions (537)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

537. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Health the status of the national physical activity plan 2019 summary progress report; when it will be completed and published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2498/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Drafting of the annual Summary Progress Report of the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP) requires the collation of annual progress made on all 60 actions of the Report and consequently requires input from the wide array of stakeholders and partners represented on the NPAP Implementation Group.

These include the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, the Department of Education, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, the Department of Education, the Department of Rural and Community Development, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Local Government Management Agency, the Health Service Executive, Sport Ireland, the Federation of Irish Sport and representatives of the academic and research community.

Many of our partners were forced to redeploy staff resources to address the challenges posed by the onset of Covid-19; compilation and review of the report was therefore delayed until the requisite information could be gathered and reviewed. However, the report has now been completed and its content was approved at the most recent meeting of the NPAP Implementation Group in December.

The NPAP Progress Report for 2019 is currently at the design stage. It is envisaged that the design will be reviewed and approved and the Report will be published on the Healthy Ireland website before the end of February.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions Nos. 539 and 540 answered with Question No. 448.

Question No. 541 answered with Question No. 531.

Question No. 542 answered with Question No. 488.

Questions (538)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

538. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Health the research that has been or is being undertaken on the impact of Covid-19 on the health of children in respect of diet and physical activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2499/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Research, evaluation and monitoring are key elements of Healthy Ireland implementation. The National Physical Activity Plan Implementation Group (NPAP IG) has a Research Sub-Group that has been involved in oversight of NPAP related research, including compilation of Irish data for the WHO 2018 Country FactSheets on Physical Activity and the WHO Health Enhancing Physical Activity Policy Action Tool (HEPA PAT) for Ireland. Research and EU engagement are also key elements of implementation of the Obesity Policy and Action Plan.

The Irish Physical Activity Research Collaboration (iPARC), an HRB funded, all-island initiative led by researchers at the University of Limerick and the Department of Health and also including representation from the Departments of Education and Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, the HSE and Sport Ireland, the HSC in Northern Ireland and researchers at Ulster University, Waterford Institute of Technology, University College, Dublin and a panel of international experts drawn from the UK, Netherlands and Australia.

At the January 2021 iPARC conference, University of Limerick researchers presented the findings of a study which found that COVID-19 restrictions were both a barrier to, and an opportunity for, physical activity in teenagers. 50% of adolescents surveyed reported engaging in less physical activity following the introduction of necessary Covid-19 restrictions; 30% reported no change in activity levels, while 20% reported more engagement. The research concluded that parents, schools, public health, communities and industries must collaborate to prevent physical inactivity at times of crisis, especially for vulnerable groups.

Further international research was also presented at the conference in the context of the pandemic, highlighting the positive effects of regular physical activity on immune function and vaccine responses, and on reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Bearing in mind the diverse positive health impacts of physical activity, Healthy Ireland initiatives have continued to take place where possible and have been adapted in line with the necessary restrictions in place at any given point in time. Healthy eating and physical activity continue to be promoted as key elements of the current Keep Well campaign, which promotes population resilience during this challenging winter period. Links to online resources for healthy eating and physical activity for families, children and adolescents are available through various websites, including Healthy Ireland, Sport Ireland and at local level, Local Sports Partnerships.

The START communications campaign was launched in 2017 in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. The campaign aims to help families take that first step and then continue ongoing steps towards a healthier lifestyle for their children. Post-campaign evaluation (2017, 2018 and 2019) includes data on consumption of various food groups during the weekdays and on weekends. The evaluation data from 2020 will be available in February 2021, which will add to the data on eating behaviours of children during the COVID 19 pandemic.

Healthy Ireland co-sponsors the Active School Flag (ASF) programme, which is led by the Department of Education. When schools were closed in March 2020, Active School Week 2020 was converted to Active Home Week, with extensive resources for use by parents at home, and was very well received. The Active School Flag Programme incorporates research and evaluation; a recent article published by a DCU research team has identified positive effects of the ASF programme on physical activity participation, behaviour and attendance in DEIS schools holding a Flag and participating in the research. Research and evaluation is also built in to the development of the ASF Post Primary pilot programme, working with researchers at the University of Limerick.

The Healthy Ireland Demonstration Project (HIDP), led by the HSE Clinical Lead for Obesity and researchers at the University of Limerick, is examining physical activity and healthy eating in the context of post-primary schools. School closures have had significant impacts on the research programme, however, students from 7 post primary schools are being tracked as part of ASF and HIDP efforts to measure the impact of COVID-19 on health behaviours in adolescents.

Ireland is a participant in the Big O European study on childhood obesity, which continued to recruit participants and to collect data throughout 2020. A study is underway to explore changes in activity and eating behaviour between 2018/2019 and 2020.

Healthy Ireland supports and participates in oversight of a number of Surveys. The Healthy Ireland Survey takes a representative sample of people aged 15 and over, resident in Ireland; Wave 7 is currently in the field and includes questions relevant to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sport Ireland have been tracking engagement in sport and physical activity in those aged 16 and over since the start of the pandemic; the results of this research are published on their website: www.sportireland.ie

The National COVID-19 Food Study, carried out by University College Dublin and Dublin City University was an online survey of adults, but many of those completing the questionnaire were parents of young children, and some reported difficulties feeding their families due to financial strain and the absence of school meals during school closures. In recognition of these difficulties, funding for the School Meals Scheme, which already prioritised DEIS schools, was maintained during the school closures and also through the summer of 2020. An ESRI Report found that over 95% of DEIS schools continued to participate in the scheme, which is also being maintained during the current school closures.

Questions Nos. 539 and 540 answered with Question No. 448.
Question No. 541 answered with Question No. 531.
Question No. 542 answered with Question No. 488.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (543)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

543. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Health if furniture delivery workers who must enter the homes of persons to deliver furniture are essential workers under level 5 restrictions. [2513/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

As the Deputy will be aware, Ireland is at level 5 of the Government’s medium-term Strategy Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19. This 5-level framework sets out what is permitted for social or family gatherings, work and public transport, bars, hotels and restaurants, exercise activities and religious services, at that moment in time.

At level 5, all non-essential retail, and all non-essential services must remain closed. S.I. No. 701 of 2020 Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No. 10) Regulations 2020 and S.I. No. 4 of 2021 Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) (No. 10) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 set out the current public health restrictions at Level 5. Further information in relation to essential retail/essential services at level 5 is available at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2dc71-level-5/.

Under the current restrictions, click or phone and delivery from non-essential retail outlets is permitted. In a situation where it is necessary to enter a premises to make a delivery, current public health guidance, such as keeping a distance of 2 metres between you and those on the premises, observing proper respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene, and the wearing of face coverings, should be strictly adhered to. Information on how to protect yourself and others from Covid19 is available on the HSE website here: https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/protect-yourself-and-others.html and on my Department's website here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/472f64-covid-19-coronavirus-guidance-and-advice/

The Deputy may wish to note that the Work Safely Protocol is designed to support both employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. This Protocol is available at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/bb7fd-work-safely-protocol/. If an employer or employee needs guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie.

My Department does not have responsibility for the retail sector, which falls under the remit of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Vaccination Programme

Question No. 545 answered with Question No. 490.

Questions (544)

Seán Canney

Question:

544. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Health his plans to vaccinate all hospital inpatients who are not Covid-19-infected but who are at risk; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2522/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

The COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy sets out a provisional list of groups for vaccination. The Strategy was developed by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and my Department, endorsed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), and approved by Government on 8 December 2020.

Vaccine allocation is a matter for my Department and further information is available here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/39038-provisional-vaccine-allocation-groups/.

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is the responsibility of the HSE.

The aim of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is to ensure, over time, that vaccine will become available to vaccinate all of those for whom the vaccine is indicated. Given that there will be initially limited vaccines available, it will take some time for all to receive those vaccines and that has necessitated an allocation strategy to ensure that those most at risk of death and serious illness receive the vaccine first.

The priority is to first vaccinate and protect directly the most vulnerable amongst us, that is, those most likely to have a poor outcome if they contract the virus. The priority is to directly use vaccines to save lives and reduce serious illness, hence the focus on the over 65 year old cohort in long term residential care facilities, and healthcare workers in frontline services often caring for the most vulnerable.

All of the groups will be covered as further vaccine supplies become available and the immunisation programme is rolled out nationally.

The evidence will be kept under review and the allocation groups may be updated, where necessary, in light of new evidence.

Question No. 545 answered with Question No. 490.