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Conditions in Ireland created 'perfect storm' for spread of UK variant

Public health experts are more concerned by the Covid-19 variant from the UK than the one from South Africa.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

THE CONDITIONS IN Ireland created a “perfect storm” for the spread of the Covid-19 variant from the UK when it first arrived in the country, according to a top virologist.

Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory Cillian De Gascun has said that the variant of Covid-19 that emerged from the UK near the end of the year has been in Ireland since November.

The variant, which was identified by the UK in December, was “bubbling away” in Ireland at low levels before it was officially recognised.

Speaking on Saturday with Katie Hannon on RTÉ Radio One, De Gascun said that the conditions in Ireland at the time created a “bit of a perfect storm” for the variant to spread.

“You’ve got a more efficient virus, you’ve got restrictions being eased, and obviously people socialising in the run-up to what is an important time of the year,” De Gascun said.

“It’s important for people to remember that the measures that we have implemented will work [against the variant],” he said.

The key message for people is to continue to avoid high-risk situations, to reduce their contacts, and follow the public health measures, because they will work.

“What people need to know is yes, a more transmissible virus by definition will be more difficult to control, so people need to be very vigilant.”

A variant identified in South Africa that has reached Ireland is also being monitored by public health experts.

Three cases of the variant were confirmed in Ireland yesterday, with all three cases were linked to travel to Ireland from South Africa.

Passengers who have travelled to Ireland from South Africa recently are now being asked to self-isolate for 14 days and speak to a GP to receive a Covid-19 test.

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De Gascun said that the variant from the UK is of more concern than the one from South Africa because it is circulating in Ireland in higher numbers.

“The good thing about the South African variant is that we know exactly where those three cases came from,” De Gascun said.

“They have been contained, they have been controlled, and they have been contact traced, and to the best of my knowledge there was no onward transmission.”

De Gascun said that what is “concerning” about the South African variant are some changes in the spike protein, which he said could theoretically have ramifications for the effectiveness of a vaccine.

“It’s a theoretical risk at this point in time, so what we need to do is get more data,” De Gascun said, which vaccine producers are to carry out tests to obtain.

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