'More transmissible' | 

Omicron now likely to account for one in 10 Covid cases as 8 more infections confirmed

Dr Tony Holohan issues warning over variant as 18 cases now confirmed in this country

Dr Tony Holohan said he expected the Omicron variant of Covid-19 to become the dominant one, but it was too early to provide data on when it would happen (Brian Lawless/PA)

Eilish O'Regan and Allison Bray

A further eight cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 have been confirmed with 4,688 new infections recorded today.

As of 8am today, 518 Covid-19 patients are in hospital, of whom 108 are in ICU.

It comes as Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said that is is estimated the Omicron variant now accounts for 11pc of Covid cases, up from 1pc just one week ago.

Dr Holohan said: “Today we are reporting a further eight cases of Omicron variant, confirmed by whole genome sequencing, bringing the total confirmed in Ireland to 18.

"Possible Omicron cases can be identified by the number of PCR results with 'S gene target failure' - just as we did when the alpha variant emerged a year ago. Using this methodology, we estimate that 11% of cases are now due to the Omicron variant, an increase from less than 1% only one week ago.

“While evidence on disease severity and immune escape is still emerging, it is clear this variant is more transmissible. We are hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.

“Over the coming days and weeks global health authorities will learn more about this variant and the risks it poses. In the meantime, we continue to have confidence in the basic measures to reduce transmission.”

Earlier this evening, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly confirmed that people will be able to receive a booster dose of a Covid-19 vaccine three months after their second dose.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

Mr Donnelly accepted the recommendation that has been made by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).

Up until now those who had received the Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines were forced to wait at least five months after their second dose before they could receive a booster.

Meanwhile, the three month gap will mean many in the current priority groups, including those over 50, will be entitled to their jab two months earlier.

Mr Donnelly wrote on Twitter: “I have this evening accepted a recommendation from NIAC that the gap between completion of primary schedule of Covid-19 vaccination and a booster dose will be reduced to three months.

"Boosters will continue to be offered in the priority order previously recommended.”

The move puts pressure on the HSE to step up the amount of booster shots available as more will now become eligible quicker.

Around 1.2m people have got a booster shot or additional vaccine so far.

They include people over 50, those with underlying conditions and healthcare workers.

The aim is to get around 1.5m boosted by Christmas as the threat of the Omicron variant which is more infectious looms.

The Minister said that Niac have also recommended that those individuals who have received one dose of a two-dose primary vaccine schedule and who subsequently have a confirmed case of Covid -19 should complete their primary vaccination course four weeks after diagnosis or onset of symptoms.

Niac have reiterated that vaccine booster doses should continue to be offered in the priority order previously recommended.

Minister Donnelly said: “I welcome this update to our booster vaccination programme, and I would like to sincerely thank all of the members of the NIAC for their continued work in support of Ireland’s vaccination programme.

“Decreasing the interval for booster doses is an important step given Ireland’s current epidemiological situation and the increasing concern we have about the spread of the Omicron variant. This step should serve to reduce serve disease, hospitalisation and deaths, as well as having an impact on infection rates.

“Vaccination, along with our continued adherence to the public health advice offer the best protection we have against the current wave of infection driven by the Delta variant, and as we wait further evidence relating to the impact the Omicron variant may have.

“Continue to avoid crowds and reduce your contacts, wear a mask, including in crowded outdoor environments, keep your distance - if you feel unsafe, feel empowered to leave, open windows and avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces and clean your hands regularly.

“Do not wait until after Christmas to receive your booster vaccine or come forward for your first dose, the benefits of receiving your booster dose far outweigh any potential risks that may arise in the meantime.”

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