Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan has admitted that he felt “frightened” when he was informed of the new Omicron COVID variant.
Speaking on The Anton Savage Show, Minister Ryan said:
“I’ll be honest, I was frightened yesterday. It was a blow because I was kind of thinking, ‘If we get these boosters out, we’ll be in much better shape’ - which we will.
“And the prospect that you could have something that could work around those vaccines, let’s be honest, it was the most disheartening news since the start of this I guess.
“It’s not certain yet. We won’t know the science of that for some time. We’ve learnt a lot and I think we’ve a lot of protection… It was action stations yesterday morning, in terms of introducing new travel restrictions, working with European colleagues and health officials to do everything to reduce the risk.
Minister Ryan said NPHET had advised the Government that it was still too early to know how deadly or vaccine resistant the new variant would be:
“Because this variant has made significant changes to the spikes on the edge of this virus - and that is one of the ways in which the vaccine works in terms of identifying the virus. But they won’t know, they say, that’ll take time.
“So it is an uncertain moment.”
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The Irish Government has decided to align with other EU countries and apply an 'emergency brake' - meaning travel is paused from affected countries.
However, the emergency brake does not apply to EU citizens, long-term EU residents and certain categories of essential travellers.
Minister Ryan also said that a variation of the vaccine could soon be developed to counter Omicron:
“Pfizer has come out and… [said] they will be able to develop an alternative vaccine that adapts to variants.
“That’s one of the advantages of the technology, it’s incredibly flexible and innovative technology.”
Stranded Irish citizens
On the issue of helping Irish citizens who have been left stranded in South Africa, Minister Ryan said the Government was looking into sending a private jet to repatriate them:
“We have to be careful because we don’t want large numbers of people coming back. But an Irish citizen who is there on holidays, or for a funeral or wedding or whatever event, they obviously have to be able to come home.
“There’s very limited flights coming out of South Africa… The Department of Foreign Affairs… [have] done it during this COVID pandemic where we arrange flights to try and bring people home to coordinate and organise that, so that’s one of things that we’re looking at.”
Main image: Minister Eamon Ryan. Picture by: Julien Behal /PA.