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Concern about Denmark's mutated coronavirus strain as testing begins at Irish mink farms

As the worlds largest producer of mink fur, Denmark has 1,080 mink farms, with Covid-19 being detected on 207 of them.

Image: Shutterstock

HEALTH OFFICIALS HAVE said precautionary measures have been put in place amid concerns about a coronavirus variant discovered in Danish mink farms.

At the weekend, the government said anyone arriving from Denmark to Ireland will be asked to restrict their movements for two weeks.

Testing at the three mink farms in the country has begun to see whether the virus is present in Irish minks. The Department of Agriculture said serial testing of all workers at these farms and their household contacts will also take place.

This evening, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said NPHET had a risk assessment meeting on Friday and met over the weekend to identify measures to put in place on a precautionary basis in Ireland. He said communications have been sent to frontline clinicians to raise awareness around the importance of travel history in relation to Denmark.

Announcements about self-isolation recommendations are to be made on flights and points of entry for travellers arriving from Denmark. Anyone suspected of having this variant will have their test sent to the National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL) for genome sequencing.

He said the ECDC is expected to provide guidance on the issue this week.

Dr Cillian de Gascun, director of the NVRL said it is difficult at this stage to know the implication of this novel variant but it is concerning that laboratory studies have shown it to be more resistant to neutralising antibodies.

“We know that a lot of the vaccines that are currently in development are targeting a similar region of the genome and are designed in essence to induce a neutralising antibody response. So, it’s very early and far too early to be overly concerned, but I think at a worst case scenario you’re potentially starting a vaccination program with a mutant that is potentially resistant to the antibodies that the vaccines are going to elicit,” he said.

“That’s the worst case scenario, so I think it’s really important what the Danish authorities have done, I think they’ve acted really quickly. We certainly want to control the spread of this novel variant.

“The thing is, in order for it to have a significant impact on any vaccination program it would need to become the dominant strain globally and that’s probably unlikely. This is a mink-adapted virus so as it transmits back into humans, we would expect to see it adapt and change again. But thankfully at the moment it doesn’t seem to be any more transmissible in humans or any more virulent or severe in humans.”

He said there is no evidence of this mutation in humans in Ireland and the Department of Agriculture will be providing sequences for mink which can be studied at the laboratory.

As the worlds largest producer of mink fur, Denmark has 1,080 mink farms, with Covid-19 being detected on 207 of them.

According to the World Health Organisation, on 5 November, health authorities in Denmark reported 12 cases of Covid-19 that were caused by a mink-associated strain of the novel coronavirus.

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Eight of these cases had links to mink farms, while the remaining four were from the local community.

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