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De Gascun says no reason to believe vaccines will not work against Omicron

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Nphet member Dr Cillian de Gascun has said there is no reason to believe vaccines will not be effective against the new Covid-19 variant Omicron.

Countries around the world are introducing travel bans and restrictions on southern African countries to contain the new variant which the early evidence suggests has an increased re-infection risk, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) who have designated the “Omicron” variant as being of concern.

The Republic last night followed the EU in agreeing to implement an “emergency brake” on arrivals from seven southern African countries, as Belgium confirmed the bloc’s first case of the Omicron variant.

Speaking on Saturday morning Dr de Gascun stressed there is no evidence “at this stage” to suggest vaccines were not effective against Omicron nor that anti-viral medicines will not work against it.

However, he said there was a reason to concerned about this variant as it “might have an impact on an antibody response and it contains other mutations that have not been seen before.”

“Because it is so far removed from the original virus there could be more infections and have an impact on those who have been vaccinated.”

South Africa

He said the number of people being infected by Omicron have risen sharply in recent days in South Africa, but from a low base.

He said it had “taken off” in a country with a very low level of Covid infections compared to Ireland, where the Delta variant remains dominant, he added.

Dr de Gascun, the director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory in UCD, added that it would be beneficial for the world to help South Africa to control the spread of the virus in their own country.

“It’s been all Delta for the last six months across the world. Nothing has come to displace Delta at this stage because it is the most transmissible and that would be normal for viruses,” he told RTÉ Radio 1’s Brendan O’Connor Show.

“There is no indication that it is widespread in Europe. There are small numbers at present. We are not seeing any evidence for it at this point.”

Dr de Gascun said the emergence of Omicron underlined the importance of rolling out the vaccine programmes globally.

The new variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on November 24th. Since then cases have been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. Germany and the Czech Republic reported suspected cases on Saturday.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan told Newstalk the Department of Foreign Affairs was trying to repatriate Irish citizens from South Africa.

“We are looking at it, an Irish citizen has to be able to come home, there is very limited flights from any airline…we’ve experience in the past, we’ve done it during this Covid pandemic where we arrange flights to try bring people home…and that’s one of the things we’re looking at”.

There is no indication as yet as to when the Munster rugby team will return. The team are in South Africa to play two United Rugby Championship (URC) against the Bulls and the Lions over the coming two weekends. Both games have been cancelled.

Restrictions

Despite the confirmed case in Belgium Dr de Gascun said he did not anticipate travel restrictions over the Christmas period in Europe.

“We can continue to allow travel by having a pre-travel PCR or a post-arrival PCR. We need to get a better picture of where the virus is at present.”

In the Republic 4,791 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on Saturday morning. At 8am, 536 Covid-19 patients were in hospital with the virus of whom 118 were in ICU.

Hospitalisations are down by 149 on the peak of the fourth wave which occurred on November 22nd when there was 685 people in hospital. The number of patient in ICU peaked on Wednesday at 132.

Dr de Gascun said there were signs the current spike in cases was slowing and that people were reducing their social contacts.

He said there was still time to get to a lower level of Covid-19, admittedly from a very high plateau.

“We need to think of this as a three month plan, a winter plan, to get it under control,” he said.

“We had increased socialisation around Christmas, but we had a massive spike after Christmas. We can’t do that again.”

HSE chief executive Paul Reid tweeted that “there’s no doubt that the public have responded once again to aim to de-risk the situation in relation to #COVID19. Yes, it’s a longer road. But I know that for all of those who are working in healthcare, and are simply exhausted, this is hugely appreciated. Thank you.”

World Health Organisation executive director Dr Mike Ryan cautioned against a public overreaction to the Omicron variant.

“There is this idea that we are just waiting for the next variant. I don’t want people to spend their lives worrying about that every day,” he said.

“Scientists need to worry about that, and we need to characterise those risks, and you need to trust that we will tell you if there is a significant change in risk.”

Dr Ryan said it was important for people to remain “open and focused.”

“We’ve seen in the past, the minute there’s any kind of mention of any kind of variation and everyone is closing borders and restricting travel,” he said.

Dr Ryan went on to commend the health officials in South Africa who flagged the new variant as one of potential concern.

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Taoiseach’s family shaped by their working-class roots

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As a special needs assistant at Bunscoil Chríost Rí in Turner’s Cross on the south side of Cork city, Mairéad Martin-Richmond is often asked how she manages financially.

Martin-Richmond, a 59-year-old separated mother of two grown-up children, is a sister of Taoiseach Micheál Martin and says her family’s working-class roots keep her grounded.

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Hines invests in industrial portfolio in Northern Italy

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Hines has reached a binding agreement for an off-market investment to acquire 20 logistics assets located between Emilia Romagna and Lombardy through the Italian fund HEVF II Italy managed by Prelios SGR on behalf of the Hines European Value Fund 2 (HEVF 2). The transaction involves the acquisition of the real estate portfolio from four different selling companies and the simultaneous 15-year lease of the same portfolio to Snatt Logistica Group, a leader in the third-party logistics (3PL) sector focusing exclusively on the fashion industry. The portfolio of 20 logistics assets provides a total of 200,000m² of logistics space around Milan, Parma, Reggio Emilia, and Bologna. They are strategic, well-established logistic centres that enjoy effective, rapid connections with Italy’s main cities and the rest of Europe.

 

“We are pleased to start 2022 with an important investment in the logistics sector that consolidates our presence in the main intersections in Northern Italy. At Hines, we believe in the potential of the logistics sector in Italy and have set an investment target of around €1bn in 2022,” commented Mario Abbadessa, senior managing director & country head of Hines Italy. “We are proud to collaborate with Snatt Logistica Group, which is an international 3PL logistics leader in the luxury fashion industry, and we are certain that we will be able to develop a shared path for growth, guided by common values, including ESG, which is key to our DNA.”

 

Paul White, senior managing director and fund manager for HEVF 2 at Hines, said: “This is an attractive portfolio of assets with a strong, innovative tenant at the forefront of Italy’s fast-growing third-party logistics sector for the fashion industry. We believe that e-commerce will continue to drive long-term demand for high-quality logistics facilities in Italy’s northern cities, pushing the value of these investments forwards, while there is also a significant opportunity to enhance the sustainability performance of existing assets here. This is aligned with our ESG objectives as recognised by GRESB, with HEVF 2 achieving the award of Overall Global Sector Leader in the Diversified Office/Retail category for sustainability performance in 2021.”

 

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Latest Coveney gaffe shows new knack of ‘making small problems big’

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“Don’t mind your press releases,” a Fine Gael source was told by a more experienced hand on their first day in Leinster House; “If you want something out there, just say it in the PP [parliamentary party meeting].”

It’s a truism of Irish politics that these meetings – especially those of the two larger Government parties – leak like the proverbial sieve. This got worse during Covid, when virtual meetings meant members were unencumbered by the need to even appear interested, and journalists were freely briefed in real time. The content of the meeting, coupled with the observations of parliamentarians – arch, knowing, and unfiltered – populated twitter streams and news copy.

So, when Simon Coveney’s remarks about his surprise at the meeting between the Russian ambassador to Ireland and the head of the defence forces were promptly headline news, it can’t have been too much of a shock. “He knows he’s speaking at the leakiest meeting in Leinster House,” observed a source present.

Still, some in the room thought when Michael Creed raised the issue, Coveney would just “warble on like you normally do”. Instead, after a gap of several minutes while other questions were fielded, the Minister for Defence bit down. He said he was “surprised to put it mildly”, several sources present said, and questioned the judgement of it.

Afterwards, sources close to Coveney quickly asserted the Minister meant the tweet from the Russians, and the accompanying picture, were the issue, not the meeting. But multiple sources at the parliamentary party interpreted it as referring to the meeting, and what’s more, as a direct rebuke to the chief of staff. “The tone I got was he was f***ing livid,” said one source.

Either way, the remark was leaked, it was controversial, and early the next morning, Coveney was mending fences in the Dáil, expressing confidence in Clancy and contrition for having brought him into the line of political fire.

A kind interpretation, offered by some at the meeting, is that he feels honour-bound to respond fully to questions from parliamentary colleagues. There is likely truth to that. But equally, many believe he would have known his comments would have been controversial, open to interpretation as a rebuke to the head of the Defence Forces, and that it was meant as a shot across the bows.

Others postulate that – perhaps more worryingly – he didn’t detect the political risk inherent in the remarks, which the Opposition would say had undermined the Chief of Staff . “Simon should have known this was going to result in public comment,” said another person there.

That, in truth is the bigger concern – that Coveney’s bad run of form is down to a blunted political dexterity. “You’d know by the way he said it he wasn’t trying to cause controversy,” one colleague said – adding that it was, however, evidence of Coveney’s new knack of “making small problems into big ones”.

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