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Bubble trouble Indian Covid-19 variant threatens summer holidays as 41 cases diagnosed in Ireland

The B1617 was declared a variant of concern last week by the World Health Organisation, which said it might be resistant to vaccines.

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A return to the beaches of Spain may be put on hold by the new Indian variant of Covid-19. Picture by Tono Balaguer

A return to the beaches of Spain may be put on hold by the new Indian variant of Covid-19. Picture by Tono Balaguer

A return to the beaches of Spain may be put on hold by the new Indian variant of Covid-19. Picture by Tono Balaguer

The Indian variant of Covid-19 threatens to scupper the Government’s hopes of a return to foreign travel later in the summer.

The Cabinet is to discuss the return of international tourism this week with plans for “a travel bubble” between Ireland and the UK on the agenda.

However, the UK is rapidly revising its roadmap out of Covid-19 as the highly transmissible strain of the virus more than doubled in a week, from 520 cases to more than 1,300.

The escalation led Prime Minister Boris Johnston to “level” with the public on Friday, warning that “hard choices” about the route out of lockdown could lie ahead.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) confirmed on Friday that 41 cases of the Indian variant of concern — B1617.2 have been detected in Ireland.

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A woman mourns after seeing the body of her son who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), outside a mortuary of a COVID-19 hospital in New Delhi, India

A woman mourns after seeing the body of her son who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), outside a mortuary of a COVID-19 hospital in New Delhi, India

A woman mourns after seeing the body of her son who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), outside a mortuary of a COVID-19 hospital in New Delhi, India


Dr Cillian de Gascun, chair of the expert advisory group to Nphet, said it was a “concern” that the number of cases of the B1617.2 variant had risen to 41 in Ireland in “a couple of weeks”.

The chief medical officer and chair of Nphet, Dr Tony Holohan, suggested the possibility of travel restrictions if required.

“When we’ve had the need to, in the past, take specific measures against specific variants, we’ve done that,” he said. “Some of the arrangements in place in terms of travel are a perfect example of that.”

Infectious diseases expert Professor Sam McConkey told the Sunday Independent the Government should be cautious about opening up overseas travel until we know whether vaccines are successful against the Indian variant.

“The more worrying questions are: could it be infecting English people who have been vaccinated and is it able to transmit and spread in vaccinated people?” he said.

“We should not open travel to England until we have that data, until we find out whether that B1617 variant is not in people who are vaccinated.

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“We need to be 100pc sure that the places we are opening up to are places that do not have variants of concern that spread in vaccinated individuals, because then we are just going backwards.”

There are two strains of the Indian variant the B1617.1 and B1617.2 — the latter being of most concern.

Scientists in the UK have said the Indian strain could be 50pc more transmissible than the so-called Kent or UK strain, which was blamed for the ferocity of the third wave in Ireland.

The chief medical officer for England, Professor Christ Whitty, said he expected it to become dominant in the UK over time.

The B1617 was declared a variant of concern last week by the World Health Organisation, which said it might be resistant to vaccines.

There were reports in India that fully-vaccinated people had become infected with Covid-19.

The Financial Times reported last week that scientists had identified worrying cases of post-vaccination infection involving B1617.2.

A report that recommends reopening the country to tourists will be considered this week by the Government.

The Recovery Oversight Group has recommended the removal of restrictions on visitors from the UK travelling to Ireland, and would also allow Irish residents to travel to the UK on holiday without restrictions.

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