Tony Holohan to chair new Covid Advisory Group to replace Nphet

New faces on group include Luke O’Neill and Clíona O’Farrelly with representative Taoiseach’s department yet to be confirmed

The outgoing Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan is to chair the newly formed Covid Advisory Group (CAG) announced on Friday evening.

The 20-person team will replace the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) which came to prominence during the coronavirus pandemic over the last two years.

The group will advise the Minister for Health and Government on how best to maximise Ireland’s medium- to long-term preparedness against SARS-CoV-2, among a list of other duties.

Many of its members will be familiar to the public, having played key roles during the pandemic.

They include Dr Ronan Glynn, deputy CMO; the HSE's chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry; Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group; and Dr Cillian de Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory.

New figures include Luke O’Neill, Professor of Biochemistry and Immunology and Professor Clíona O’Farrelly, Chair in Comparative Immunology, both of whom became high profile commentators on the spread of and response to Covid.

Other expert members include Prof Pete Lunn of the ESRI Behavioural Research Unit; Prof Mary Horgan, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, and Prof Paddy Mallon, consultant in infectious diseases.

Prof Máirín Ryan, chair of the Health Information and Quality Authority's Covid-19 Expert Advisory Group, has also been drafted to the group, as have Dr Eimear Brannigan, chair of the Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control; Dr Derval Igoe of the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre; GP Dr Tadhg Crowley; consultant microbiologist Dr Anne Rose Prior; Professor of physical chemistry John Wenger; Dr Anne Moore, Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry; and Fergal Goodman, head of the health protection division at the Department of Health.

A representative of the Department of the Taoiseach has yet to be confirmed.

Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly said while the number of hospitalisations is now falling, Covid-19 remains a threat with "no way to know for sure what lies ahead".

“We need to be prepared. The Covid Advisory Group will make best use of national expertise, international data and evidence,” he said.

The group’s responsibilities are wide-ranging and follow a shift in the State’s response from one of emergency to one of constant vigilance and preparedness for any future developments.

As well as advising Government on medium- and long-term responses that may become necessary, the group will be responsible for the evolving epidemiological assessment of Covid-19, and it will monitor new and emerging evidence with regard to existing technologies, practices and interventions for the detection and control of the virus.

It will undertake “horizon scanning”, including internationally, so that future interventions can be appropriately integrated into the public health response, and advise government officials on experiences in other countries.

“This new phase of Ireland’s response to Covid-19 requires an approach that is informed by national and international evidence,” a statement announcing the group’s formation said.

It will be “grounded in best public health practice, with a broad, multidisciplinary membership encompassing members with specific expertise and experience in areas of strategic and operational responsibility.”