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Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan Sasko Lazarov via

Sample shows one in four Covid-19 cases in Ireland last week were UK variant, Holohan told government

The CMO wrote to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on Tuesday regarding the current Covid-19 situation.

ONE IN FOUR positive Covid-19 cases in Ireland last week were that of the UK variant, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said in a letter to government on Tuesday.

The letter to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly was sent a day before Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday announced a raft of tighter Covid-19 restrictions, including the closure of schools for the remainder of this month. 

The new restrictions come as Ireland experiences a daily growth rate of Covid-19 cases that is outpacing most of Europe. 

Yesterday, it was confirmed that the number of people currently in hospital with Covid-19 eclipsed the previous peak of the pandemic in April. 

In his letter to Donnelly on Tuesday, Dr Holohan warned that the epidemiological situation in Ireland has “deteriorated substantially” since the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met on 30 December. 

Dr Holohan warned that a number of separate independent analyses indicated that the new Covid-19 variant from the UK has “significantly increased levels of transmission compared to other variants in circulation”, and that it is potentially “in the region of 50% more transmissible”. 

New research has shown that the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine protects against the UK and South Africa coronavirus variants.

Pfizer and researchers from the University of Texas carried out lab tests on the strains which were found to contain mutations including N501Y, an alteration in spike protein of the virus, which is a target for vaccines.

In a statement on Christmas Day, Dr Holohan confirmed that the new UK variant had been detected in Ireland. 

Outlining further analysis since then in Ireland in his letter on Tuesday, Dr Holohan said that on the week to 3 January a total of 47 out 189 positive case samples (24.9%) were that of the UK variant.

Dr Holohan said that further analysis and sequencing will take place over the coming days to “establish the extent of the presence” of both the UK and South African variants in Ireland. 

“It is anticipated that, from next week, a new PCR testing platform will facilitate a higher throughput screening approach for the UK variant,” Dr Holohan said. 

Commenting on the currently Covid-19 situation in Ireland, Dr Holohan said that “there has been a further significant deterioration across all indicators of disease transmission and severity in the six days since NPHET last met”. 

He said: 

The situation is expected to deteriorate further in the coming days given the known time lags associated with the impact of measures. 
Furthermore, latest information in relation to the presence of the UK variant here in Ireland and reports of its increased transmissibility from the UK are an emerging concern and point to the urgent need for as strict as possible adherence to the measures that have been mandated by government and for measures that are as strong as possible in relation to travel, particularly with regard to travel from the UK and South Africa. 

The government yesterday confirmed that the current ban on travel from the UK and South Africa will continue until Saturday, at which point all passengers coming from those two countries will be required to be in possession of a negative PCR test that they acquired within 72 hours of travelling. 

This new mandatory requirement will be in place until the end of the month when it will be reviewed. 


In relation to schools, Dr Holohan said that the experience from September to December 2020 “has clearly demonstrated that schools are in themselves a safe environment”. 

However, he continued: “The current epidemiological situation has deteriorated to a point where the significant levels of mobility and linked activity that the full reopening of schools would generate constitutes a very significant additional risk in the context of what are already unprecedented levels of disease transmission.” 

Dr Holohan stressed that “it is important to state that this advice is not based on a changed assessment of the risks in relation to transmission levels in school”.

Rather, it is a reflection of the overall epidemiological situation and the absolute need now to reduce all opportunities for transmission. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday confirmed that schools will remain closed for the remainder of this month with a review to be open on when they will open. 

Martin said in an address yesterday afternoon however that students in the final year of their Leaving Certificate cycle will be allowed to attend school for three days a week. The Taoiseach reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the State exams proceeding as planned this year. 

The Taoiseach also said that special education should remain open “with protections in place”. 

- Additional reporting by Press Association. 

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