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Coronavirus: What word on the way from Nphet?

Inside Politics: There is a sense in Government that more robust recommendations could yet emerge

Not since the dark days of the lockdowns has a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) been more anticipated. Dr Tony Holohan and his colleagues gather later today to discuss the threat from the Omicron variant, and the advice that they should give to Government to deal with it.

The expectation in and around Government in recent days was that some tightening of restrictions is likely to be recommended and implemented, perhaps in advance of the weekend.

Assuming the transmission of Nphet’s advice to the Government late tonight or early tomorrow morning, a Cabinet meeting could be called for tomorrow evening when the Taoiseach returns from the European summit in Brussels. It is likely there would be instant political approval if Nphet recommends a tweaking of existing restrictions.

But there was a sense in Government yesterday evening that more robust recommendations could yet emerge. Although a return to proper lockdown measures, such as closing schools or retail, will not be countenanced by Government at this stage, Christmas sporting events could yet be in the firing line, as our lead story this morning reports.


Nphet has been known to surprise us before, and there is no doubt that the perceived threat from the new variant is growing by the day. Last night Boris Johnson’s government issued new warnings, as the new-case count in the UK hit record highs. Expect those records to be broken soon, chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned, pointing to a likely rapid increase in cases in the coming period.

Also last night, the European Centre for Disease Control issued updated guidance on the new variant, warning of the danger that EU health systems could be overwhelmed. So don’t be surprised if Nphet takes all this into account.

Within Government, a rapid acceleration of boosters - allied to appeals to people to limit their socialising over the Christmas, and to take precautions when they do - is still the preferred weapon against the variant. Current levels of the disease are manageable, and people have adjusted their behaviour in recent weeks, insiders say.

But the question is not where the disease is now – it’s where it’s going, and the mood could grow a lot more fraught pretty quickly once the case numbers start to pile up.

Our lead story is here.

Testing staff brace for a Christmas surge.

Paul Cullen looks at delays in the booster programme.

Conor Pope on the travel rules.

A Christmas wine guide . . .

Now, on a rather different note, a seasonal educational feature. Readers often send in queries seeking advice from our political staff in all areas of life. Normally this advice is issued privately but such has been the volume of requests lately on one vitally important question, that we are compelled to share our guidance in this public forum.

The question: what wines should we drink this Christmas?

Significant primary research has been undertaken throughout the year in preparation for answering this important question. After a rigorous selection process and the disqualification of many suggestions on the grounds that they were too expensive, too cheap, too young, too old, too obvious or too posh or indeed not posh enough, we have settled on the following three wines.

Sparkling: Our favourite remains Pol Roger, but for buying in quantity, the best value decent champagne is from Aldi, whose Veuve Monsigny costs just €20. If anyone mentions Prosecco, they can leave the Digest now.

White: In general, you should go to your local wine shop, but some supermarket wines are too good to ignore. Marks and Spencer has a Premier Cru Montagny 2020 made by the Cave De Buxy, a young white Burgundy that will probably be even better next Christmas but is quite ready for guzzling now. Classy and priced at €20.50.

Red: turkey is difficult to match, but Irish Times wine critic John Wilson gives sound advice - just get one of your favourite wines and have it. So we recommend the 2018 La Fleur Cravignac St Emilion Grand Cru, available from independent wine shops and - a feast of flavour, balance, fruit and lush, sweet tannins. As ever, €20 quid. You’re all welcome.

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Firms should repay subsidies if they don't need them, says Paschal Donohoe. Let's see how that goes, shall we?

Naomi O'Leary on how the EU tried to cancel Christmas. Or didn't, really.

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British plans to require documentation for non-Irish nationals to visit the UK, including the North, will actually be another border in the Irish Sea, says Newton Emerson, it's just that nationalists have failed to realise it.


Last day before the Christmas holidays starts with transport questions at 9am, followed by finance questions at 10.30am. Leaders’ Questions at noon, with statements on Covid in the afternoon.

Later, the Dáil will discuss a Bill proposed by Labour’s Brendan Howlin to introduce sanctions against foreign government officials who perpetrate human rights abuses. This is a Magnitsky-type law - named after a Russian accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, who made serious accusations against tax and law enforcement officials in that country and was in turn accused of aiding tax evasion, was arrested and jailed. After being allegedly beaten by police, he died in prison. Such laws have been passed by several countries.

The Dáil adjourns at teatime until the new year.

The Seanad is still wading through Government legislation, and it’s a quiet day at the committees, with the highlight being the appearance of senior officials from the Department of Health at the public accounts committee, where they will discuss the department’s spending.

Otherwise, all eyes will be on the meeting of Nphet. There’s also the EU summit in Brussels.

As this is the last digest of the year, let us thank all our readers for their attention throughout the year and wish everyone the compliments of the season. And if you do buy the wines recommended above, enjoy them responsibly, as they say. Just remember to buy enough. You don’t want to run out before Christmas. Sure that wouldn’t be responsible at all. Happy Christmas.