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VIRUS FEARS Concern new Covid-19 variant could reduce vaccine effectiveness as two more cases found

The B1525 strain, which was previously found in Nigeria and the UK, has now been identified in a total of three cases here recently.

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Dr Máirín Ryan, Hiqa deputy chief executive and director of health technology assessment. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Dr Máirín Ryan, Hiqa deputy chief executive and director of health technology assessment. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Dr Máirín Ryan, Hiqa deputy chief executive and director of health technology assessment. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Two more cases of a new coronavirus variant of potential concern have been detected, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has confirmed.

The B1525 strain, which was previously found in Nigeria and the UK, has now been identified in a total of three cases here recently.

The variant is of concern because it could reduce the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.

It comes as Dr Breda Smyth, public health specialist in HSE West, told last night’s Covid-19 briefing how a large outbreak of Covid-19 among students in the west has resulted in 442 cases among 224 households.

She revealed details of the outbreak, which began on February 9 and is mostly among adults aged 18 to 24.

Twenty clusters are currently linked to the cases, ranging from two to 42 cases.

She said that 145 cases were linked to single household outbreaks, while 179 cases are linked to multiple household clusters.

The outbreak also seeded cases among two restaurants and a hotel, as well as the retail sector.

It also led to a cluster in another part of the country.

Health officials believe students moving between their homes and student accommodation, inter-household mixing and socialising, as well as a number of house parties are some of the ways in which the virus spread.

It comes as 39 additional deaths related to Covid-19 were reported, and 462 new cases.

Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Professor Philip Nolan, said: “The R number has at least remained stable and may even have decreased slightly, this is reflected in the week-on-week decline in cases that has been reported recently.

“This represents an extraordinary effort over a very challenging nine-week period that has brought us from 6,500 cases to under 600.” The number of Covid patients in hospital has fallen to 460, of whom 107 are in intensive care.

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Prof Nolan said there was emerging evidence of the impact of vaccinations in long-term care facilities where infections and deaths have fallen. There has also been a very sharp reduction in deaths in older people.

Meanwhile, new expert advice has stated that primary schoolchildren should not be made wear face masks in the classroom.

The benefit of children under 13 using a face mask was likely to be small and may be affected by their reduced ability to wear it, a new report from the patient watchdog Hiqa said.

In advice to Nphet, it said any decision to require or recommend face-mask use in children must be balanced against perceived disadvantages associated with their use, for example, potential effects on communication.

Dr Máirín Ryan, Hiqa’s deputy chief executive and director of health technology assessment, said: “It is important that schools remain open to support children’s educational, social, and emotional development.

“The best way to ensure that schools remain a low-risk environment is by the continued use of a combination of public health measures, such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, increased ventilation and by not attending when you have symptoms of Covid-19.”

Hiqa was asked to assess if the minimum age of mask-wearing be reduced.

The advice was informed by the latest international practice as well as input from its Covid-19 Expert Advisory Group.

Measures previously employed in schools have successfully mitigated the spread of the virus.

Dr Ryan said public health measures such as physical distance, hand hygiene, cough etiquette and better ventilation should “not be limited to the classroom”.

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