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get ready Rapid-response plan to deal with any new Covid-19 variant being prepared by Government

Redeployment of testing and tracing and new vaccine roll-out may be part of measures

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Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Julien Behal

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Julien Behal

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Julien Behal

The Government is working to put in place a plan for a rapid response to any indication that the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic will worsen.

It will include redeployment of testing and tracing, amping up the vaccine roll-out, and contingency plans to bring in public health measures at short notice.

The emergency plan would be used in case of the emergence of a new variant, or if the country was hit with a fresh wave of the virus.

The Irish Independent understands it does not include any plan for restrictions or lockdowns, but instead sets out how Covid-19 can be dealt with in the long term.

While the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) has not made its views clear on a fourth dose for the entire population, the plans include redeploying staff to vaccine centres at short notice.

Cabinet this week decided to end free mass testing for healthy people aged under 55.

The plans will also streamline organisational Government structures from the end of this year, into next year.

Sources said this is to avoid a “scramble” in case of a new Covid-19 variant or a significant increase in case numbers or hospitalisations.

The pandemic was managed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), an oversight group in the Department of the Taoiseach and the Niac.

A senior Government source said a “more integrated” structure will be put in place instead.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has already requested that Nphet be dissolved and it is believed a team on a smaller scale will be put in place, which will have a monitoring and surveillance role for the pandemic.

One senior source said this will be done through the office of Dr Holohan. However, if a separate group is to be put in place to replace Nphet, it is believed it will take a few weeks to be fully formed.

A separate Government source said the new group would not be a “Nphet 2.0”.

Dr Holohan is believed to have a positive outlook of the pandemic as the legal requirements for masks to be worn is done away with on Monday.

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The rapid-response plans will be finalised at next week’s cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19, which will meet on Monday and include Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Michael McGrath.

The Taoiseach told a private meeting of his parliamentary party earlier this week that the Government is moving from an “emergency phase” to a “transition phase” of dealing with the pandemic.

TDs and senators heard how Minister Donnelly is working on a new plan to deal with the pandemic, and Mr Martin said the Government will continue to “strengthen” public health infrastructure.


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