Young people need to understand health impact of Covid-19, Varadkar says

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned that young people need to be aware of the longterm health impact of Covid-19 and not to think they are immune.

Young people need to be concerned, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, referring to herd immunity reports. “You may end up with a weak heart or lungs for the rest of your life, so please don’t be trying to get this.”

There was so much more yet to learn about the virus, he said. It was not like the flu, it was much more infectious and dangerous.

Mr Varadkar also said that the solution to healthcare problems had never been just about money, it was also about management, clinical leadership and organisation.

The €600 million allocated for the Winter Plan will help keep people out of hospitals and provide community care instead, he added. One per cent of hospital beds are currently being used by Covid-19 patients and that was before the additional 1,000 beds due to come on stream.

If the level of Covid cases got three times worse, he said, the system would still not be struggling, but he warned that things might get “much worse than three times worse.”

Sick pay

On the issue of sick pay, Mr Varadkar said that “I was in the room where it happened”, referencing when sick pay was agreed. Under the scheme, he said that anyone who has to take time off work because of Covid-19, if certified by a doctor and they had a test, was entitled to €350 per week for 10 weeks.

Mr Varakdar said that scheme had been introduced before the PUP, but he wanted to introduce a long term sick pay system, which would have to be funded and there would have to be talks with Congress.

It would be a mistake to put the cost on businesses, as proposed in a Labour Bill, as this could lead to job losses, he warned. Lack of awareness of sick pay was unhelpful, added Mr Varadkar.

The Tánaiste said he wanted to see more local recruitment of nurses. He acknowledged that recruitment was a challenge, it was very slow, especially when it had to go through a central system.

Ireland was in the top five of countries with the level of nurses in the country, he said. However, he said that while the number of hospital beds was below the international average, the country was not an outlier.

The health service was responding to the problem and had done more tests per head than Germany, Sweden and the UK. It would never be possible to identify where every outbreak happened.

China had able to “go back to normal” as they were able to do things with their citizens that could not be done in a democracy. “Not that we would wish to," he said.