Ireland is leading the EU on mandatory hotel quarantine and is has one of the fastest vaccine roll-outs in the bloc, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said.
He said Irish people need to see unity from their politicians, decrying claims that the vaccine roll-out in Ireland is a “debacle” or that mandatory quarantine is being introduced much too late.
In fact Ireland is doing well on vaccine distribution in an EU contest, and is leading the trading bloc on mandatory hotel quarantine, he said.
Mr Donnelly said the vaccine programme had been criticised sharply on the basis that is was progressing slowly, adding: “We would all love it to be moving at the speed of the UK.
“But we're just going to have to accept the UK is not in the EU. But we (in Ireland) have managed to advance purchase 18.5 million doses which we would not have been able to do outside of the EU.
“So the UK and Israel are pretty much ahead of everyone, but within what we can control, which is within the EU, we here have consistently been one of the fastest roll-outs in the EU.
“Not only that, but we're prioritising our highest risk people first, which takes more time and more efforts, it's more complex.”
Mr Donnelly, speaking on the mandatory health quarantine legislation in the Seanad, said it was “simply not credible” to suggest that the new restrictions were a case of better late than never.
Austria, Belgium Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, and Germany all had no mandatory quarantine in a hotel or a government facility, he said.
Latvia, Liechtenstein Lithuania, Luxembourg Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden had no such legislation either, he said, adding Ireland was leading the EU.
Cyprus and Hungary did, but only for arrivals from the UK. In Greece mandatory hotel quarantine applied, “but only if your incoming test is positive”. Iceland had it only if there is no alternative, with people allowed to go home. And if you had a home in Norway, you just do the home quarantine, he added, which Ireland had as well.
“So to suggest that this is some sort of laggard move on behalf of Ireland, it simply just doesn't stack up,” he said.
Mr Donnelly said he did not believe all of the Opposition’s points were made with the very best of intentions in the Dáil last week.
Some were “taking photographs of the voting monitors after the vote, sending them around social media and saying the Government has left you all at risk”, he complained.
“We're all trying to do the same thing. There is absolutely no monopoly on wisdom on how to do this,” he said, adding that he respected all views.
“My view, for what it’s worth, is the Irish people need to see unity from their politicians. The more unity we have after the debates the better.”
The HSE is working seven days a week on vaccinations, he said, had already covered long-term residential care facilities and made huge inroads into cohorts of healthcare workers. Cohort three – the over-85s – was underway, and there was prioritisation also of those with a very high risk underlying condition.
“The country needs a bit of hope, and that hope is the vaccination programme,” he said. “For it to be described as a debacle, I just think that's nonsense. I think it's a great disservice to the people who are running this.”
Mr Donnelly said he was in Dublin City University (DCU), “where they had 102 GP clinics and had nearly 1,000 people over the age of 85 in attendance.
“The Order of Malta was there. Dublin Airport had sent in their wheelchairs, there were medical students, general practitioners, practice nurses, the staff in DCU, the HSE.
“The Air Corps has been flying vaccines to the islands in the west. There's a national effort going on here that I am very proud to be part of, as an Irish citizen watching the apparatus of the State and our health care workers step up.
“When you meet the people being vaccinated, the hope, the emotion and the energy is is incredible. And so I would just I would just encourage people to take a look at that.”