Politics

Over 150 passengers depart Morocco on Government repatriation flight

More than 150 passengers have departed Morocco for Ireland on a repatriation flight organised by the Government.

The 156 passengers on the flight from Marrakech to Dublin included Irish citizens as well as citizens of several other EU countries and the UK.

The journey was organised after flights to and from Morocco were suspended earlier this week until at least December 13th, amid fears over the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The repatriation flight on Saturday was operated on behalf of the Government by Ryanair.

Responding to news of the flight’s departure, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hailed the efforts of the Irish Embassy in Rabat in the operation, tweeting: “Well done and thank you!”

Meanwhile, live music and theatre venues have been grappling to respond to the new Covid restrictions announced on Friday which will see indoor events limited to half capacity for a month from Tuesday.

Ticketmaster urged customers to “please bear with” it while organisers make arrangements following the Government announcement. It said information will be made available as soon as possible.

The 3Olympia Theatre in Dublin said it was working with promoters, artists and ticket agents on the logistics involved with shows here in the short term over the Christmas/New Year’s period.

In a statement the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre said it was “currently working with Disney Theatrical Productions to determine how best to manage bookings for the upcoming schedule of The Lion King”. It urged customers to be patient as it worked through the information.

Responding to the Government move, the Gaiety Theatre said it was “ working on a system that is fair to our loyal customers and can efficiently handle a large number of ticketing queries that this difficult situation creates”. The Little Mermaid Christmas panto is currently on stage at the theatre.





Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU


487


114

Hospitalisations

The number of Covid patients in hospital has fallen to 487, the lowest level in almost four weeks, the latest official figures show. The number of Covid patients in hospital fell by 41 between Friday and Saturday. There were 5,622 further cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday.

Tweeting about the latest hospital figures on Saturday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “plan is working – 3rd doses, masks, test & isolate, physical distancing. Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t lose heart. Let’s all have a safe Christmas.”

Meanwhile, waiting times for a Covid booster vaccine were up an hour at Citywest in Dublin on Saturday morning, the HSE said. Boosters are currently being offered to healthcare workers and those aged 60-69 at various walk-in centres across the State. The total number of booster vaccines administered so far is 913,670.

The figures come as the Government on Friday announced its most wide-ranging introduction of new restrictions this year after “stark” warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to take immediate action in the face of the threat from the Omicron variant.

From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity. Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms and hotel bars and restaurants.

Trinity College immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill said the main reason for the new restrictions was the new Omicron variant, and he thought they were needed as the “next three to four weeks are going to be tough”. Speaking to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ radio, he said it was “strange” that restrictions were being introduced when things are stabilising, with the lowest hospital numbers since November 6th.

Prof O’Neill said he was “hopeful” at news that the Omicron variant may have a piece of the common cold virus in it which could make it more like the common cold.

On Saturday People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said the reason for the restrictions was because the Government made “huge mistakes” in terms of cutting contact tracing for schools and restoring full capacity to public transport and offices and not moving quickly enough with antigen testing.

Communications

The latest measures were confirmed after tensions re-emerged between the Coalition and its public health advisers during testy exchanges earlier in the day.

Nphet had warned that while it was “impossible to quantify the level of risk” from Omicron, this may become clear only “when it may be too late to take mitigating measures”.

Saying he shared the “frustration” of the public, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced a range of restrictions on hospitality as well as associated financial supports.

The issue of official communications on Covid-19 was raised at Cabinet, where Ministers took a formal decision that all communications on Covid were now to be managed by and done through the Government Information Service (GIS), which would apply to civil servants and members of advisory bodies. Several well-placed sources said the intervention was seen as a direct response to disquiet among some senior Coalition figures over Nphet’s media strategy.

Minister of State Colm Brophy said on Saturday the Government decision meant GIS would “co-ordinate the message” and there would be “one single message”.

However, Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin told Virgin Media News on Saturday that while there was a need for clarity of message there was also a need to ensure the Government did not control the message and the public had full access to public health advice.

Business Supports

The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) on Saturday described as “extremely disappointing” the “low level” of supports announced by the Government amid the new restrictions.

“They fall far short of what is urgently needed given the scale of the crisis now facing the sector,” the IHF said.

The Government reopened applications for the pandemic unemployment payment for people from impacted sectors, and a targeted version of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme for the hospitality sector. Businesses such as restaurants and theatres will be able to access the scheme despite not being fully closed. A commercial rates waiver for the first three months of 2022 will be introduced for the hospitality and entertainment sector. An extra €25 million will be made available to support the live entertainment sector. However, the cuts to the employment wage subsidy scheme (EWSS) – the rates of which were cut this week – were not reversed.

“It is devastating that the Government has failed to restore employment supports for hotels, despite the collapse in business levels witnessed throughout the country by our sector. We are calling on the Government to revisit this decision and urgently restore EWSS supports to November levels,” IHF president Elaina Fitzgerald Kane said.

She said December trade normally sustained very challenging off-peak months but this has been “wiped out”, with occupancy rates of just 35 per cent for December.




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