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Indian variant ‘black cloud on horizon’, warns chief medic

Dr Tony Holohan said public health officials are concerned about the Covid variant’s increased transmissibility.

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Public health officials in Ireland have voiced concern about the Indian variant of coronavirus (Damien Storan/PA)

Public health officials in Ireland have voiced concern about the Indian variant of coronavirus (Damien Storan/PA)

Public health officials in Ireland have voiced concern about the Indian variant of coronavirus (Damien Storan/PA)

The Indian variant of Covid-19 is a “black cloud on the horizon” for Ireland, the country’s chief medical officer has warned.

Dr Tony Holohan said public health officials are “genuinely concerned” about the variant and its increased transmissibility, despite the situation being “stable” at present.

He said: “The situation is broadly stable for the most part.

“The public is staying with us in terms of maintaining a high level of behaviour consistent with our public health advice.

We are genuinely concerned about the reports we’re seeing and the credibility we attach to them around the increased transmissibility associated with that particular variantDr Tony Holohan

“The vaccination programme is continuing at pace and we’re increasing the proportion of people being vaccinated on a daily basis.

“In broad terms you could characterise it that the sky is for the most part blue. But there is a black cloud on the horizon which is the Indian variant.

“We are genuinely concerned about the reports we’re seeing and the credibility we attach to them around the increased transmissibility associated with that particular variant.”

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He added that reports from Public Health England of a possible reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine, particularly after the first dose, against the Indian variant is “underscoring” concerns.

Dr Holohan told a Department of Health Covid-19 briefing on Friday that officials will have all those factors in mind when they consider the advice they will give to Government later this month about the continued easing of restrictions.

Some 72 cases of the variant have been confirmed in Ireland to date, up from 59 earlier this week.

The figure has increased from 41 in the past seven days.

Asked about Dr Holohan’s comments, Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the Government was tracking the issue “very closely”.

He said he was briefed on the variant at his meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week.

“We’re going to closely monitor this and watch how it’s evolving within the UK in particular, both in terms of vaccine escape – how robust the vaccines are against this particular variant – and in terms of its impact.”

Around 290,000 vaccine doses were administered last week, with one million in total expected to be delivered in May.

Mr Martin said: “The vaccination programme is going really well, with very strong momentum. Last week, 290,000 people were vaccinated.

“We’re somewhere close to 280 this week and something similar next week.

“Over a million will have been administered in May. It think that’s very, very good news. And we continue with that momentum going forward. I think it’s good news all round.”

Meanwhile, the Government is to make an announcement next Friday on the further lifting of lockdown measures.

The Department of Health confirmed an additional 524 cases of Covid-19 on Friday.

There were 107 patients with the virus in hospital on Friday morning, including 38 in intensive care.

The country’s five-day moving average now stands at 443 cases per day.

The 14-day incidence per 100,000 population is estimated to be 124.

Professor Philip Nolan said the number in hospital had remained stable at just over 100 for the last 10 days. The number in ICU increased slightly, reaching 42 last weekend, but he said that figure is decreasing again.

Prof Nolan added that all of the indicators at the end of this week are “almost identical” to what they were the previous week, reflecting a “very stable situation overall”.

Dr Holohan also used Friday’s briefing to reiterate his appeal for Leaving Cert students to continue restrict their social contacts in advance of next month’s exams.

He said: “Meet up by all means, but do so safely and outdoors with your pals. You’ll need that for the purpose of your personal and mutual support for one another.

“But to do so in a safe way. You simply don’t want to end the year after working so hard at the end of the year by picking up this infection and finding yourself not being able to sit the exam.”

The Leaving Cert is due to begin on June 9.


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