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Cases of variant from South Africa identified in Ireland have been contained, says expert

The variant from the UK accounts for more than 60% of new cases in Ireland.

Image: Shutterstock/Imilian

CASES OF THE Covid-19 variant from South Africa that were identified in Ireland have been contained, health officials believe.

Six additional cases related to the South African variant that were recorded this week have been contained, according to the Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory Cillian De Gascun.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Saturday with Katie Hannon, De Gascun said that there was no significant transmission of the variant in Ireland.

De Gascun said that those cases are “contained” and that experts “haven’t seen evidence of significant onward transmission on the island”.

“We expect to see imported cases purely because people are travelling, but the key thing is that when they arrive, they’re contained, and we don’t see evidence of onward transmission,” De Gascun said.

The variant that was first identified in the UK now accounts for more than half of cases recorded in Ireland. 

De Gascun said that data up to last Sunday indicated that the variant accounted for 63% of all cases, with figures for this week to be confirmed in the coming days.

“It’s certainly our dominant variant at this point in time, our dominant variant in Ireland,” De Gascun said.

“But I think that highlights the achievement of people over the last few weeks because we know it’s a more transmissible virus, we’ve seen how it’s become the dominant variant over the last four to six weeks,” he said.

“The fact that people have managed to get an R0 down to between .4 and .7 over that period of time is really impressive.”

De Gascun said that the variants raising concern from the UK, South Africa and Brazil had more mutations than would usually occur in a coronavirus.

Identifying how those mutations happened could help prevent similar ones in the future.

“Coronaviruses usually have a fairly steady rate of accumulating mutations, usually about one to two per month, De Gascun said.

“What’s interesting about the new variants, both the ones first identified in the UK and then those from South Africa and Brazil is that they have more mutations than we would expect to see at this point in the pandemic,” he said.

Somewhere along the line, they have been exposed to a greater evolutionary pressure than we would have expected to see, so it’s really important that we try and figure out what that was.

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“There’s been speculation that it may have been in an individual who was persistently infected and there’s been speculation that may have been an individual who would have been exposed to exogenous treatment or therapeutic antibodies, so that’s put pressure on the virus to evolve in a particular way,” he said.

“If we can identify that then it might help us to prevent other variants of that sort of type emerging in the future.”

79 deaths and 1,414 new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Ireland this evening.

Ireland has now recorded over 1,000 deaths and more than 100,000 cases in January alone, with more cases confirmed in January than in all of 2020.

At 2pm today, there were 1,492 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, with 211 in ICU.

55 more people have been admitted to hospital in the last 24 hours.

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