The composition and role of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is to be examined as the country emerges from the emergency response phase of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Saturday.
With the vaccine rollout nearing completion and the Cabinet set to decide on Tuesday on the timeline for removing the remaining Covid-19 restrictions, Mr Martin said decisions needed to be taken about how best to “transition to normalcy in terms of how Government works.”
“From my perspective, as a former minister for health, public health advice is critical and the Chief Medical Officer leads that and will continue to lead that.”
He said the format of Nphet and the senior civil servant oversight committee – which acts as a filter for recommendations made by public health experts to the Cabinet – will be looked at.
Mr Martin said as the country entered a new era in terms of its management of the pandemic the question was: “how do we transition now from what has been an emergency situation for a long period in to creating if you like a more normal environment to deal with the next phase?”
The Taoiseach also cautioned that there had been many “twists and turns” with Covid-19 and there could be more. He admitted the Government was concerned about the impact of the Delta variant.
During a visit to the Royal Cork Yacht Club in Crosshaven on Saturday the Taoiseach said countries which have placed public health advice at the at the core of decision-making are doing best in terms of mortality, incidence and managing the pandemic.
“We will decide on Monday or Tuesday in terms of next steps but the key decisions to be made will relate to how we reopen key parts of society.”
Referring to the seven countries which remain on the quarantine list for entry in to Ireland the Taoiseach said a step-by-step approach would be followed.
He also that sports events were being favoured when it came to exceptions for public events. Some 20,000 people are attending the All Ireland Football Semi-Final in Croke Park today and 40,000 fans attended the All Ireland Hurling Final last weekend.
Mr Martin said the reason why music festival Electric Picnic was not going ahead was because it did not get planning permission.
“That was the key issue there. Designating any event a pilot can’t overcome the planning issues. There will be consultation with the promoters. That is beginning during the week and on Monday to see what are the options here”
Mr Martin said aim of the Government was to reopen society safely.
“That is our key objective across the board … But as soon as we reopen one sector the next sector quite obviously and understandably wants to accelerate its reopening.
“But there is no selective favouring one sector over the other. We did pilots in the Arts and live music but the difficulty and the difference is that in the entertainment world they need high capacities. Viability is a key issue so we have to support that.”
He said the difference for sports events was “if you get to a 50 per cent scenario in sport they won’t need support or subsidies from the State”.
“Our objective is to reopen. We want people to play music again. Of course we do. We want people to go to theatre again in good numbers. And I think we can do that quickly in terms of the vaccinated to go back in to theatres.”