Nphet to meet with Coalition leaders as regulations are drawn up for new travel policies 

Nphet to meet with Coalition leaders as regulations are drawn up for new travel policies 

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan this evening said that the Nphet Epidemiological Surveillance Team continues to meet this weekend to monitor the situation. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) are to meet with the leaders of the Coalition parties on Monday to discuss the Omicron variant as a number of countries across the world move to tighten restrictions.

It is understood Nphet will meet tomorrow to assess guidance from its Epidemiological Team which has been monitoring the Omicron variant situation over the weekend.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan this evening said that the Nphet Epidemiological Surveillance Team continues to meet this weekend to monitor the situation and stated that regulations are being drawn up to give effect to the new travel and home quarantine policies.

“In the meantime, those who have travelled from any of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa or Zimbabwe to Ireland since 1 November are advised that [they] should isolate and present for PCR testing, regardless of symptom status," he added.

While there is much attention on the new variant Dr Holohan said the incidence of the delta variant of Covid-19 remains too high in Ireland.

"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.” 

Chair of Nphet's Expert Advisory Group, Dr Cillian De Gascun said we need to “continue to control what we have while being vigilant and monitoring Omicron”.

It comes as health authorities across the world have moved to close borders and tighten restrictions amid growing concern about the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Restrictions elsewhere

Mandatory mask-wearing will return to shops and public transport in the UK on Tuesday while international arrivals will have to take a PCR test for Covid-19 and self-isolate until they get a negative result.

The Dutch public health authority has confirmed that 13 people who arrived in the Netherlands on flights from South Africa have so far tested positive for the variant.

The 13 are from a group of 61 people who tested positive for Covid on Friday after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport before a ban was put in place.

The Dutch responded by ordering bars, restaurants, non-essential stores, cinemas and theatres to shut from 5pm until 5am under the new lockdown.

Morocco has halted all incoming air travel from around the world while Australian officials have also confirmed that two overseas travellers arriving in Sydney had tested positive for the Omicron variant.

The two passengers were among a group of 14 who arrived in Australia from southern Africa on Saturday. Both were asymptomatic and vaccinated against Covid-19. The remaining 12 have been placed in quarantine.

Neighbouring New Zealand announced it is restricting travel from nine southern African countries because of the threat posed by the variant, and Japan widened its border controls to include more countries from the region.

Tourist-dependent Thailand, which only recently began loosening its tight border restrictions to leisure travellers from certain countries, announced a ban of its own on visitors from eight African countries.

Similar restrictions took effect in Singapore, which is barring entry and transit to anyone with a recent history of travel to seven southern African nations.

Sri Lanka banned the disembarkation of passengers arriving from six African countries, as did the Maldives.

Israel went further, barring entry to all foreign nationals, mandating quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad and red-listing travel to 50 African countries.

It also approved use of the Shin Bet internal security agency's controversial phone monitoring technology to perform contact tracing of individuals confirmed with the new variant.

The tighter restrictions reflect steps rapidly taken by countries to limit the spread of the Omicron variant just days after it was identified in South Africa.

Cases involving the Omicron variant have already been confirmed on multiple continents, with Germany, Italy, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong all reporting cases in recent days.

The United States' top infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said he would not be surprised if the new strain is already in the US too.

"We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility ... it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over," he said on NBC television.

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