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Govt to ‘facilitate’ NPHET over communicating advice

Taoiseach said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and its members will always be facilitated by the government regarding the formulation of public health advice.

Speaking to reporters, Michel Martin said public health advice has been central to the government’s response to the pandemic and “the formulation of that advice will always be facilitated.”

“At no point will there be an attempt to compromise the independence of that advice,” he said.

Earlier this week, the government said the plan aims to coordinate key messages on Covid across all departments of the government.

Mr Martin said NPHET members would be facilitated in terms of their visibility in the media, adding that there was a need to coordinate and assess this because at times there were too many voices that might not be as helpful as they could have been.

It comes as the Ministry of Health has been notified of 2,950 more cases of Covid-19.

There are 536 patients with the virus in hospitals, an increase of 33 from yesterday, 110 of them are in intensive care.

In a statement, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “During these winter months, it is imperative that we immediately isolate any symptoms of Covid-19 and arrange a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

“We all know the measures needed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 – good hand hygiene, wearing a face covering, meeting others outdoors where possible, indoors, opening windows and ensuring good ventilation, maintaining distance, and of course coming to the front for vaccination and booster when it is eligible.

“The ongoing efforts we all make to work with public health advice during this pandemic remain fundamental to our work to reduce the incidence of Covid-19 in our communities.”

In Northern Ireland, there were another 1,635 cases of Covid-19. The hospital has 301 Covid patients, 34 of whom are in intensive care.

Regarding the Omicron variant, Taoiseach said we need to see the results of work currently underway internationally on the variant to determine its contagion and the level of protection that vaccines offer against it.

We need to wait and be patient to get a full understanding of Omicron and these results will determine the direction of travel, he said.

Taoiseach said the government is doing everything it can to ramp up the uptake and provision of the booster vaccine program in the coming weeks, urging people to get vaccinated.

He said the restrictions announced last week will remain in place until January 9 and no further restrictions are expected.

Free antigen test for colleges

Minister of Complementary and Higher Education Simon Harris has announced a €9 million fund to provide free antigen tests to university students.

The fund will be available to all colleges and will be accompanied by an awareness campaign.

Minister Harris said 400,000 students have returned to college campuses because public health advice has been followed.

However, he said advice from the expert advisory group on rapid testing indicated that there were transmission risks from multigenerational mixing.

As a result, the minister created the fund, which colleges can withdraw to provide free antigen testing on their premises.

The awareness campaign will inform about antigen tests and the appropriate use of them.

Minister Harris described the initiative as an additional measure to protect students, the third-tier sector and society at large.

The Association of Irish Universities welcomed the announcement, saying it builds on the Uni-Cov project already in place at a number of universities.

“Universities will now work to provide supplies of test kits as soon as possible,” a statement from the union said.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry has revised a controversial directive issued to schools, which directed that older children should be barred from attending primary school if they refuse to wear masks without a medical reason.

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Additional reporting by Paul Cunningham

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