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'Too early to say' whether new coronavirus strain is present in Ireland

Earlier today UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said more than 1,000 cases of this variant have been identified.

Image: RollingNews.ie

THE NATIONAL PUBLIC Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has said it is too early to say whether a new strain of the coronavirus identified in England is present in Ireland. 

Earlier today UK health officials revealed more than 1,000 cases of this new variant have been identified, with cases in almost 60 different local authority areas.

The UK government announced that London and parts of Essex, Kent and Hertfordshire will face Tier 3 restrictions from Wednesday following “very sharp, exponential rises” in cases. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the new variant of Covid-19 is growing faster than the existing variants already found.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said it is not clear whether this virus is able to transmit more easily, leading to the recent surge in case numbers, or whether the frequency is simply down to the part of the country it is in, which already had an increasing rate of infection. 

Speaking at this evening’s Department of Health press conference, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said health officials received notification of the new strain today.

“This afternoon we had formal notification of that variant through our official early warning system with European colleagues and the UK,” he said.

“There’s very little information available on it at the moment and there’s further epidemiological and virological investigation going on by colleagues in the UK.

Obviously we will be interested in the potential effects of this variant in terms of transmission and in term of the effects on the immune response, but it’s really too early at this stage to say whether or not it has any such effects. We’ll need to wait for more information to come out.

He said it’s also too early to say whether this variant has been seen in this country.

Professor Whitty said earlier that there is no evidence the strain is more dangerous or that symptoms are any worse or different. He also said the current Covid-19 test works for this variant and it would be “surprising” if the vaccines already in development were not effective against it. 

Concern about travel

Germany is heading into a partial lockdown from Wednesday in a bid to curb the spread of infection. The Netherlands and the Czech Republic have also said they will implement strict lockdowns over the holiday period, with Italy considering a similar move. 

This evening Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said he is concerned about the potentially large number of people travelling into the country from abroad over the next week to spend Christmas in Ireland.

Ireland has the lowest incidence of Covid-19 in Europe, but this progress made in recent months may now be at risk, he warned.

He said Ireland is in a “strong position” in comparison to other countries in terms of incidence and mortality. 

“The burden of infection right across Europe is very, very high,” he said.

“This is the reason that our advice is very simple and very clear at this time we’re asking people to avoid all non essential travel and that means people coming to visit here over Christmas, it also means Irish people who might be planning a few days away either over Christmas or in the New Year and coming back.

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“We’re asking people to avoid all that non-essential travel because the incidence of the infection in many other countries, particularly those countries with whom we have a very close travel relationship – the UK, North America and other parts of Europe – is so high at the moment. So yes we’re concerned about that and we’ll continue to monitor it.”

He said there is “a fragility” in terms of Ireland’s situation because there is no level of immunity that has built up in the population that would prevent the kinds of waves of infection seen in other European countries.

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