Concern | 

Number of suspected Omicron variant cases identified in Ireland, says Health Minister

Omicron variant has health officials worldwide concerned due to its ability to outcompete the highly transmissible Delta variant
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly (Brian Lawless/PA)

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly (Brian Lawless/PA)

Eoghan Moloney

A number of suspected cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant have been identified in Ireland, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said.

Minister Donnelly said that a number of cases with the S-gene dropout evident in Omicron but not in Delta have been identified and have been sent for sequencing.

The Minister said it’s very likely at least some of these will be the Omicron variant.

Despite this, Mr Donnelly said further societal and economic curbs are not on the table for discussion with senior Government figures meeting with public health officials today to discuss the emergence of this new variant.

The Omicron variant was first identified in Botswana and South Africa and has health officials worldwide concerned due to its ability to outcompete the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Many epidemiologists have pointed to the virus’ mutations on the spike protein as a cause for concern as they indicate an ability to evade vaccine antibodies and are linked with increased transmissibility.

Cases have been identified in many countries since its discovery last week with Australia, Israel, Hong Kong, Scotland, England and many other countries confirming cases of the variant.

Gauteng Province in South Africa, the first identified epicentre of an Omicron outbreak, has seen case positivity and case numbers skyrocket in recent days, albeit from a very low base.

Health officials have said it will take a number of weeks to determine if or how effective the variant is at vaccine escape or just how much more transmissible the variant may be when compared to Delta.

The head of the lab in Johannesburg where the variant was first detected in South Africa has said early indications are disease severity is not greater than any previous strains of the virus. Most cases are mild or asymptomatic but there have been people hospitalised due to the Omicron strain, Dr Alison Glass of Lancet Labs said.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for an immediate lifting of travel bans imposed by much of the world on several Southern African countries now that the variant has been detected in many continents already.

Ireland, in line with the EU, has limited travel to and from seven countries in Africa due to Omicron. These are South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

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