Unvaccinated at ‘more risk than ever since pandemic began’ – Varadkar

Young people should minimise social contacts over next few weeks, says Tánaiste

People who are unvaccinated from Covid-19 are at more risk than they ever were before during the pandemic because of the Delta variant of the virus, the Tánaiste has warned.

Leo Varadkar said "there is a risk that if they don't take care they will overwhelm our hospitals and put those healthcare workers under enormous strain again".

Mr Varadkar stressed that “this pandemic is not over. We’re heading into a difficult couple of weeks where we will see cases soar and hospitalisations and ICU admissions rise and deaths rise again sadly.”

He said “we’re entering a new phase”. Vaccines have weakened the connection between cases and hospitalisations and deaths but has not broken it.

“And we’ve a virus that’s more infectious than ever before. At the start of the pandemic older people were the most vulnerable. We asked them to stay at home and that prevented a lot of illness and saved lives.”

He said they had 200 people in ICU in the past two months and 199 were not vaccinated. A major surge in cases was almost entirely of younger people who were not vaccinated.

Mr Varadkar appealed to people are unvaccinated to avoid socialising indoors, and to keep their contacts to a minimum and to avoid foreign travel and to wear a mask.

Speaking on the last day of the Dáil session before the summer recess, Mr Varadkar appealed to all TDs to “please say to unvaccinated people ‘you’re at very high risk; treat this pandemic as seriously as you did at any point since it began’”.

Recognition for healthcare workers

The Tánaiste was responding to Independent TD Denis Naughten who appealed to the Government to immediately honour its commitment stated by the Taoiseach earlier this month to provide recognition to frontline healthcare workers who placed themselves at risk during the pandemic.

Mr Naughten expressed concern that plans for a bonus or time off was being caught in “some relativity battle across the public service”, after the HSE said last week it had not mandate from Government to negotiate any bonus payment when it sat down with public unions.

He acknowledged that staff across the public service staff have worked in challenging circumstances but “no group of public sector workers put their lives and those of their families at risk to a greater extent than our healthcare workers”.

Mr Naughten said these staff needed time off and time to recover before they break down completely and “exhausted health care staff are a recipe for mistakes” and said they should immediately follow the example of Scotland which paid its NHS staff a bonus £500.

Mr Varadkar said the Government does want to recognise the work of the public service and frontline health care workers “in a special way”. It could be through a financial bonus or additional leave taken over a number of years.

But he said there were complications and real factors that had to be taken into account. “The pandemic isn’t over yet… And it would become apparent to people over the next couple of weeks.”

He added that “it isn’t just healthcare workers who have put their shoulders to the wheel when it comes to the pandemic. Lots of other public servants have too in the department of Social Protection, in Revenue, in my own department making sure businesses got the grants they needed.”

The private sector and volunteers also contributed and it “would be a mistake not to look at this in the round.”

And there had been very significant variation between healthcare workers – some doing twice the work they normally did, others being redeployed and some doing less work because their service was shut down.

“This is not straightforward. This is something, we’re going to have to work out, something we’re going to have to negotiate, it’s something that’s going to have to be fair and its something that’s going to have to be funded.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times