Extra measures for kids turn worry as new

New measures to ban indoor gatherings for children and introduce facemasks for students aged nine and above are to be considered by the government on Friday.

The ministers are meeting amid concerns over Covid-19 case numbers ahead of the Christmas period and the emergence of a new Covid variant spreading in South Africa that could make vaccines less effective and riskier efforts to fight the pandemic.

In a statement on Thursday night, the health department said, “There have been no cases of this type in Europe to date, but the health minister is very concerned.”

It said the department had, in recent days, been monitoring the emergence of the new version B.1.1.529, and the World Health Organization (WHO) was meeting on Friday to assess its importance.

The variant has been identified in several countries in southern Africa and Hong Kong, but the department notes that “the WHO has not yet designated this variant as a variant of concern”.

Britain has postponed matches from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe from Friday afternoon.

Current Department of Foreign Affairs travel guidance “no longer advises against non-essential travel to South Africa based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks”.

A spokesman for the department said Thursday night there was no expected update to the travel advisory.

After a meeting on Thursday, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has recommended to the government that indoor gatherings for children should be avoided for the next fortnight. It is believed to include events such as nativity plays, sleepovers, birthday parties and playdates.

In a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is also believed to have recommended that children aged nine and older should wear masks in school and other indoor settings and on public transport, as That’s for those in the present. Age 13-plus.

Nphet is also recommending extending the requirement of COVID passes to other indoor settings such as gyms and hairdressers.

The measures will be considered today by Mr Donnelly and government colleagues.

It is understood Nphet will not decide on recommending further restrictions until next week, when it will have more data on whether case numbers and hospital admissions are reaching a plateau, as some officials and ministers have shown. has suggested.

“If the numbers don’t come down, it will be a more serious meeting,” a senior source said. A suggestion of more severe restrictions for Christmas would be on the cards in that case.

In a statement last night, Dr Holohan said the rate of Covid-19 infection remained “relatably high” and urged people to reduce their social contacts in the coming weeks.

He also said that people “should be mindful of your contacts in the days following socialization, and especially consider anyone you meet who is immune-compromised or vulnerable to COVID-19.” could”.

He was speaking as HSE pushed forward its plan for how to vaccinate children aged five to 11 years after the European Union’s drug regulator approved the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for that age group.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in children aged five to 11 years at a lower dose than in adolescents and adults.

The move paves the way for Ireland’s National Immunization Advisory Committee to consider the rollout of the vaccine for children here. It is understood that special shots for children will not be distributed in Ireland until around 20 December, and it is unlikely that primary school children here will be vaccinated before the new year.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said he welcomed the EMA’s decision. “Our understanding is that the delivery of those vaccines across Europe will be at the end of December, so in the meantime what we’re doing is working out a plan and channel in which we’ll prepare vaccinations for those younger age groups,” she said. .

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