[Sinn Fein]

23rd April 2003

``SARS threat - Minister must take control of the situation'' - Ó Caoláin

Sinn Fein Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has said there is a situation of ``drift, uncertainty and lack of leadership'' in the face of the threat from SARS. He said the Minister for Health and Children Mícheál Martin must ``take control'' and prevent a climate of hysteria from developing.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

``Public fear about the threat from SARS has been fuelled by the drift, uncertainty and lack of leadership from the State on this vital public health issue. The Minister for Health and Children needs to take firm control of the situation or else a climate of hysteria will develop. The public needs to be assured that there is a coherent, co-ordinated and effective approach from all relevant authorities. That is not the case at present.

``The National Disease Control Centre on its website states that as a result of the IMO industrial dispute, no new medical public health advice will be available at the NDSC until further notice. This website has not been updated since 11th April 2003. With people seeking up-to-date information urgently this is an absurd situation.

``It is not good enough for the Minister and the NDCS to rely totally on the World Health Organisation for the Irish response to SARS. There must be a co-ordinated Irish response, in conjunction with the health authorities in the Six Counties, so that as an island we can have the most effective defences against the spread of the disease. Nothing that has been done or said since I questioned the Minister and the Tánaiste in the Dáil last week indicates such an approach.

``Long before the IMO dispute the Minister was well aware that we did not have 24-hour, 7-days-a-week coverage for public health alerts in this State, in contrast to the North. The situation was allowed to drift into the current dispute. It must not be allowed to drift into the spread of SARS in Ireland.''

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