A quarter of positive Covid-19 cases sampled in Ireland contain a more infectious variant of the coronavirus first identified in the UK, according to Government sources.
The Irish Times reports that the country’s chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, informed Government ministers of the latest results from genomic testing at a briefing today.
Samples up to now had suggested that the UK variant accounted for less than 10 per cent of cases in the Republic.
Last week, the director of the UCD National Virus Reference Laboratory, Dr Cillian De Gascun, said the small number of cases identified suggested that the UK variant was not responsible for the recent “significant and concerning” increase in case numbers.
Concern has surrounded the rapid spread of the new variant worldwide, with Ireland among many countries to introduce a temporary ban on travel from mainland Britain earlier in December.
However, various health experts have suggested the sudden increase in Covid-19 cases in the Republic is due to the relaxing of restrictions before Christmas, rather than the new variant.
The Republic is now experiencing a third surge of viral infections, with a further 17 deaths and 5,325 new cases confirmed this evening.
HSE chief Paul Reid warned on Tuesday that the health service is “under real threat now” from the impact of soaring case numbers.
Hospitalisations are close to the peak of what was seen during the first wave of the pandemic in March and April, while the positivity rate from testing is reaching a new high of between 40 per cent and 55 per cent.
On Tuesday afternoon, there were 840 people in hospital with the virus, with 76 people in intensive care.
The Taoiseach has confirmed that the closure of schools, childcare and the construction sector are under Government discussion.
Micheál Martin said that the Government is proposing to close schools until the end of the month, with a formal decision expected on Wednesday.