Mary Horgan and Luke O'Neill among members of new group that will replace Nphet

Mary Horgan and Luke O'Neill among members of new group that will replace Nphet

Mary Horgan, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, at the unveiling of her portrait in February. She is one of the leading scientists and medics appointed to the new body. Picture: Gareth Chaney

Top scientists Luke O’Neill, Mary Horgan and ventilation expert John Wenger are to be named today as leading members of the Government’s new Covid-19 Advisory Group, the Irish Examiner can reveal.

The group, which will replace the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), will be accountable to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, and will be chaired by the chief medical officer (CMO).

The establishment of the group comes amid stubbornly high Covid-19 infection numbers that have caused considerable strain on health services in recent weeks.

John Wenger at the atmospheric and air quality monitoring station at UCC's North Mall campus in Cork in 2018. Prof Wenger is joining Ireland's new Covid Advisory Group. File picture: Eddie O'Hare
John Wenger at the atmospheric and air quality monitoring station at UCC's North Mall campus in Cork in 2018. Prof Wenger is joining Ireland's new Covid Advisory Group. File picture: Eddie O'Hare

The group will be established on a standing basis, will meet regularly — probably once a fortnight — and will have up to 20 members, less than half the number that sat on the now-defunct Nphet

Prof O’Neill emerged as one of the leading voices during the pandemic and is seen as a skilled communicator. Prof Wenger, a professor of physical chemistry at University College Cork (UCC), is an authority on improving ventilation in schools and other public buildings.

UCC colleague and biochemist Anne Moore and University College Dublin expert on infectious diseases Paddy Mallon are also to be on the new advisory body.

Alongside the CMO, it is expected that leading public health experts such as deputy CMO Ronan Glynn, Nphet modelling expert Philip Nolan, and the HSE’s Colm Henry will also sit on the new group — but the names have not been finalised.

Luke O’Neill is one of the high-profile scientists being appointed to the new body which effectively replaces Nphet. File picture: Mary Browne
Luke O’Neill is one of the high-profile scientists being appointed to the new body which effectively replaces Nphet. File picture: Mary Browne

With the emergency phase of the pandemic over, it is not envisaged that this advisory body would have as wide a range of influence as Nphet.

It is not expected that it would recommend matters such as the introduction of restrictions in the first instance.

Were the country to re-enter an emergency phase, it is deemed possible that this new advisory group would become the bedrock of another “full Nphet”, which is seen as likely when winter comes. A senior source said: 

This group will be there to monitor the situation and offer expertise as how to ready the country in case of another surge.

It is understood that those who sit on the new group will not be in receipt of any additional monies for their membership but a secretarial staff will be made available to support the group’s work.

Senior sources within the Department of Health have said the group’s establishment is not in response to the recent increase in disease levels but was requested by chief medical officer (CMO) Tony Holohan following Nphet’s final meeting on February 17. 

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