Nphet will not be ‘prevented’ from speaking on public health, Minister says

A formal decision has been taken that all communications on Covid-19 will be managed by the Government Information Service
Nphet will not be ‘prevented’ from speaking on public health, Minister says

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will not be "prevented or stopped" from speaking publicly on science or public health.

It comes after tensions between the Government and its public health advisers re-emerged on Friday evening, amid the unveiling of the new restrictions.

A number of Ministers are understood to have expressed frustrations over Nphet’s media strategy, and a formal decision was taken that all communications on Covid were now to be managed by and done through the Government Information Service.

Speaking on Sunday, Mr Donohoe said there were a “challenging number of weeks and months ahead” and a need “to coordinate our efforts so that they are as effective as possible” in communicating on Covid-19.

“It is really important that we are coordinated in our public health messaging, and do all we can to deliver a single set of guidance to the country regarding what could happen,” he told Newstalk radio.

“I would just make the general point that as we are dealing with the effects of the disease on our economy, and on our country overall, it’s really important that we are coordinated in our public health messaging.”

Business supports

Asked about Tánaiste Leo Varadkar describing new restrictions as “peculiar” when Covid-19 numbers were stabilising, Mr Donohoe said public health measures were different in the past and new measures were “precautionary” because of the uncertainty around the impact of the new Omicron variant.

Regarding supports for businesses affected by new restrictions, Mr Donohoe said the Government will examine raising the €5,000 a week cap on financial support for large businesses in the coming days.

Amid the reintroduction of restrictions, the Government is reopening the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) for people from affected sectors at the higher weekly rate of €350 and a targeted version of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme for hospitality businesses, Mr Donohoe said.

“We appreciate that there are a group of workers in a really important part of our hospitality sector in particular, who are finding themselves unemployed again all over again within a year and we have a particular responsibility to them,” he said.

He said that for “some particularly larger businesses who are large employers” the €5,000 a week cap “may need revision” and that would be looked at “in the next few days.”

The Minister said that the Government was “in a different place” with Covid-19 and needed to look at targeted “sector by sector” supports rather than general supports for the wider economy.

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