Government to meet Nphet on risks of new variant and 'circuit-breaker' for children

Government to meet Nphet on risks of new variant and 'circuit-breaker' for children

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan will meet chief medical officer Tony Holohan today to discuss how the new variant changes the public health landscape in Ireland. 

Government leaders will meet with the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) today as concern grows about the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and the Cabinet gets set to discuss a "circuit-breaker for children".

Nphet officials met across the weekend to discuss the emerging variant of the virus, as countries across the world tighten public health restrictions and, in some cases, close their borders.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan will meet chief medical officer Tony Holohan today to discuss how the new variant changes the public health landscape in Ireland. 

A number of ministers have cautioned that it is "far too early" to predict a return to lockdown, with one senior minister saying "we're not in that space". 

Last night, the focus of Government remained on bringing down infections in children aged five to 11.

Tomorrow, Cabinet is expected to agree on measures proposed by Nphet last week, with Christmas plays, communions, indoor playdates, sleepovers, and birthday parties to be forbidden for young children, in what has been described as a type of "circuit breaker".

Ministers said the restrictions will be temporary and are aimed at cutting transmission ahead of Christmas. 

The measures will not be legally enforceable, however, and the emphasis is on "empowering parents to cut contacts".

Further restrictions are unlikely to be imposed at Cabinet tomorrow and ministers insist there is "no question" of anything like countrywide lockdowns.

"We wouldn't get the buy-in," said one minister, who added that "perspective" is needed about the new variant, saying there is no evidence it is any more dangerous than the Delta variant, which has swept through Ireland.

Meanwhile, Mr Ryan said the Government is considering chartering a flight to bring Irish citizens home from South Africa, where the new variant was first identified by scientists last week.

Mr Ryan said the Government has identified 147 people seeking to get home.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney was working with European colleagues last night to organise flights out of South Africa. 

Irish people who return home on those flights will be required to quarantine for ten days, regardless of their vaccination status.

Among those affected is the Munster Rugby squad which had hoped to return to Ireland yesterday but those plans have been shelved due to the discovery of a positive Covid case in the camp.

A further 3,735 cases of Covid-19 were recorded yesterday, with 566 Covid patients in hospital, of which 117 are in intensive care.

Dr Holohan said that while the public focus is now on the Omicron variant, the level of the Delta in the community "remains too high".

We all know the actions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 — good hand hygiene, wearing a face covering, meeting others outdoors where possible, and, when indoors, opening windows and ensuring good ventilation, keeping your distance and, of course, coming forward for vaccination and booster dose when eligible.

Health authorities across the world moved over the weekend to close borders and tighten restrictions.

Mandatory mask-wearing will return to shops and public transport in Britain while international arrivals will have to take a PCR test and self-isolate until they get a negative result. 

This will not apply to people travelling from Ireland.

Israel has adopted one of the toughest sets of restrictions, barring entry to all foreign nationals, mandating quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad, and red-listing travel to 50 African countries.

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