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new strain Six cases of the more infectious South African variant found as concern over vaccine grows

Three cases were found earlier this month and were believed to have been contained.

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The volume of cases remains high, said Dr Tony Holohan

The volume of cases remains high, said Dr Tony Holohan

The volume of cases remains high, said Dr Tony Holohan

A further six cases of the more infectious South African variant of the virus have been detected here, it emerged ­yesterday.

Three cases were found earlier this month and were believed to have been contained.

The South African strain - called B.1.351 - is thought to be much more infectious than regular Covid and even more transmissible than the UK strain, which has been blamed for contributing to the third-wave surge.

There is particular concern because it is still uncertain whether the existing vaccines will be effective against it.

If not, drug manufacturers will need to reformulate the vaccines and everyone vaccinated would need a new jab.

Five people who caught Covid-19 abroad or were infected by someone who travelled here are among those who have died of the disease over the course of the pandemic, as Ireland yesterday reached a grim milestone of 3,066 deaths from the virus.

As the Cabinet gave the go-ahead for tougher restrictions on travel, the death toll breached 3,000.

The over-75s have been worst hit by fatalities and this third wave has seen high levels of infection among this group.

The number of healthcare workers who have died from the virus has risen to 10 after remaining at eight for several months.

It comes as another 90 deaths were reported yesterday among people ranging in age from 48 to 99 years old.

The number of newly diagnosed daily cases fell below 1,000 to 928 for the first time since Christmas Eve.

Hospitals continue to be under huge pressure, although the number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients fell to 1,750 from 1,905 on Monday.

Intensive care for patients relied heavily on surge beds, with 216 needing the highest level of treatment - a slight drop from 219 on Monday.

"Today we are reporting a further 90 deaths, bringing our cumulative total of lives lost to Covid-19 to more than 3,000 in Ireland," chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said.

"This highly infectious disease is having a severe impact on the most vulnerable in our society and we must continue the good work we are doing.

"The decline in daily incidence of Covid-19 has begun. However, the volume of disease in our communities remains very high.

"To date we have reported 96,000 cases in January 2021, which has already passed the total of 93,500 cases reported in 2020.

"Indeed, public health doctors in the midlands reported a total of 4,000 cases in the first eight months of 2020 and another 4,000 cases in the first four weeks of 2021.

"Through our enhanced public health surveillance programme we have identified six additional cases linked to the Southern African variant of concern. All cases are being followed up by public health teams in line with the latest European Centre for Disease Control guidance.

"The downturn in incidence has been achieved through the determination of people to stay at home, to work from home and to avoid meeting and socialising with others.

"It is imperative that everyone continues to strictly adhere to the public health advice to protect ourselves and our loved ones."

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