Three new members have been appointed to the National Public Health Emergency Team to bolster its infectious disease and scientific resources.
Two of the new appointees, Prof Mary Horgan and Prof Karina Butler, have already taken part in recent meetings of the team, which is charged with advising on the policy response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
They will be joined by Prof Mark Ferguson, who is Director General of Science Foundation Ireland. Prof Horgan is president of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland and a consultant in infectious diseases in Cork University Hospital. She is also professor at the school medicine at University College Cork.
Prof Butler is chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, and is also a member of the high level task force on Covid-19 vaccination. She is Professor of Clinical Paediatrics at UCD and a consultant paediatrician with Children's Health Ireland.
While there are no immediate plans to remove any of the more than two dozen members of the Nphet group, it is understood that in the medium term, there will be an emphasis on scientific and medical expertise, with the potential for a more slimmed-down version of the currently constituted team to emerge over time.
The Nphet has been at the centre of the State’s response to Covid-19. While the Government rarely diverged from its recommendations in the early days of the pandemic, there have been a series of high-profile clashes in recent months.
In October, the Nphet recommended a four-week implementation of Level 5 restrictions, which was rejected by the Government. However, following an acrimonious spat, the Government eventually conceded and instituted a wide-ranging lockdown which expired at the start of December.
The public health team then recommended that hospitality remain closed to dine-in customers during the month of December, which the Government rejected, allowing gastropubs and restaurants to re-open. This was followed by a surge in infections culminating in the likely closure of schools for the month of January, with Nphet members suggesting the rise in socialisation was behind the jump in transmission. The Government has instead pointed to the presence of a more transmissable strain of the disease, which was first detected in the UK. Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan told the Government on Tuesday that the new strain was responsible for around 25 per cent of infections.