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Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# What is it?
Explainer: What do we know about the Covid-19 strain from Brazil that has arrived in Ireland?
Three cases of the variant from Brazil have been identified in Ireland.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 20th 2021, 1:38 PM

THE NEW VARIANT of Covid-19 first seen in Brazil has been identified in Ireland, with three cases confirmed to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

The three cases are directly associated with recent travel from Brazil, the Department of Health said last night.

Ireland has joined a growing list of European countries that have reported a small number of cases of the variant, which includes France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.

The variant has been named the P.1. lineage, and it was first identified by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Japan.

On 6 January 2021, the the NIID detected the P.1. variant in four people who arrived in Tokyo that had visited Brazil four days previously.

The variant has twelve mutations in its spike protein, and it shares some of the mutations that have been identified in the variants from the UK and South Africa.

After more research, scientists identified that the variant was circulating in Manaus, a city in northern Brazil with a population of over 2,200,000.

Between 15 and 23 December, 42% of samples that tested positive for Covid-19 in Manaus contained the P.1. variant. However, in genome surveillance samples of the virus that were collected between March and November, the variant is absence.

“These findings indicate local transmission and possibly recent increase in the frequency of a new lineage from the Amazon region,” a study into the variant in January found.

“The higher diversity and the earlier sampling dates of P.1. in Manaus corroborates the travel info of recently detected cases in Japan, suggesting the direction of travel was Manaus to Japan,” it said.

“The recent emergence of variants with multiple shared mutations in spike raises concern about convergent evolution to a new phenotype, potentially associated with an increase in transmissibility or propensity for re-infection of individuals.”

107 cases of the variant have been detected in Brazil to date since it was first identified in the country on 14 January.

In January, cases of the P.1. variant were found in Germany (one case), the USA (three cases), Italy (four cases), Mexico (one case), the Netherlands (two cases), Colombia (seven cases), South Korea (one case), and the Faroe Islands (one case) as well as in Japan (five cases) and Brazil (107 cases).

Since then, Ireland, Peru, Croatia, Turkey, France, Canada, Argentina, Portugal, Belgium, French Guinea, Spain and Switzerland have detected the variant.

All of those countries have recorded five or fewer cases of the variant, except for Switzerland, where 10 cases have been reported.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is monitoring mutations of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and their spread around the world.

When the P.1. variant was detected in Japan, the WHO said that “the more a virus spreads, the more chances it has to mutate. Limiting transmission is critical to reducing infections and the occurrence of mutations that may have negative public health implications”.

“WHO advises all countries to increase testing the sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 viruses where possible and to share sequence data internationally, so that changes in the virus can be monitored,” the WHO said.

“As countries increase sequencing, we should expect to identify more variants,” it said.

The same comprehensive approach to controlling COVID-19 works against these variants. At an individual level, protective measures work for all identified variants: physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning hands, and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue.” 

Since 18 January, people arriving into Ireland from South America have been required to self-isolate for 14 days whether or not they have a negative Covid-19 test, shortly after the UK banned travellers from South America entirely.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said at the time that there would be no ban on travellers from South America coming into Ireland because there are no direct flights between here and the continent. 

The three cases of the variant that have been identified in Ireland are being followed up with by public health teams.

“In addition any such passengers should phone any GP or GP out of hours service to arrange a free Covid-19 test – the test should be done 5 days after you arrived in Ireland or as soon as possible after those 5 days. Whatever the result of the test, you must complete the 14 day period of quarantine,” Dr Glynn said.

“While there is currently no microbiological or epidemiological evidence of any change in transmissibility of P1, this is plausible. Further studies are required to determine whether this variant is likely to have an impact on vaccine effectiveness or infection severity,” he said.

“Detection of this variant in Ireland does not change the fact that our best defence against all forms of COVID-19 is to stick with the public health measures that have proved to be effective in reducing incidence of disease in our communities.

“We must continue to wash our hands well and often, wear a mask, cough and sneeze into our elbows, keep two metres social distance from others and avoid crowds, and always remember that it is imperative to phone your GP at the very first sign of Covid-19 symptoms.”

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Saturday with Katie Hannon, Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory Cillian De Gascun said that public heath experts “believe it’s likely that it’s more transmissable”.

“We believe that it has amino acid changes that could well have an impact on the vaccine effectiveness, but we don’t have hard data yet purely because it wouldn’t have been included in those trials [because they took place before the variant emerged.”

On the three cases of the variant that have been confirmed in Ireland, De Gascun said that it is “an example of the system working”.

“These individuals are all part of the same cluster, they came back, they quarantined, they contacted their GP or HSE live to arrange to be tested, their test results came back, RNA was detected, public health was notified, the individuals have been contact traced, the sequence of the samples were sent to the National Virus Reference Laboratory for sequencing, and whole genome sequencing confirmed the novel variant,” De Gascun said.

“The cases have been contained. I believe contact tracing is probably still going on, I can’t say for definite that that’s complete, but we’ve no evidence of on-island transmission of this variant,” he said.

“These people did exactly what they were supposed to do.”


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