Dept, Harris silent on fears of COVID-19 threat at conference

The Department of Health, and Minister Simon Harris, have so far failed to respond to questions put to them asking if they had put in place measures, recommended by the World Health Organisation [WHO], to minimise the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak at an international event the Department is co-hosting next week. They have also both failed to respond to questions about how they will minimise the harm to the general population of Ireland should an outbreak occur at that event.

The Global Alcohol Policy Conference, a 3 day event, is due to take place in Dublin from Monday the 9th of March. That event will see somewhere in the region of 1,000 participants, from all over the world, coming together to discuss how best to ‘reduce alcohol-related harm worldwide’.

This is despite the fact that one of the major spreaders of COVID-19 within Europe was a British man who appears to have contracted COVID-19 when he attended a similar sized conference in Singapore.

The Department has so far said the event, which Minister Simon Harris will speak at, will go ahead, despite concerns that the event could lead to the spread of COVID-19. This is despite the Minister recently calling upon the cancellation of an international rugby match due to concerns that it would lead to an outbreak of COVID-19.

The WHO has issued a document, “Key planning recommendations for Mass gatherings in the context of the current COVID-19 outbreak”, which details the plans and procedures that should be put in place for mass gatherings due to the increased risk of an outbreak of COVID-19 that these events represent.

Gript has reached out to the Department, on multiple occasions, and Minister Harris directly to confirm that the Department has carried out the plans and procedures recommended by that document, but both the Department and the office of the Minister have so far not confirmed the existence of any of the plans recommended by the WHO.

In particular we asked the Department and the Minister if they had prepared a) a comprehensive risk assessment plan for the event, as recommended by the WHO, b) a risk mitigation action plan for the event, as recommended by the WHO, c) a risk communication and community engagement plan for the event, as recommended by the WHO, d) and a plan detailing where and how participants in the event, who are presenting with symptoms that are akin to COVID-19, will be tested for the virus, as recommended by the WHO. We also asked for copies of any such plan.

We’ll update this article should a response from the Department or the Minister be recieved.

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