Government Ministers are set to be briefed on the rise in coronavirus Delta variant cases in Ireland after it emerged that the strain now accounts for 20 per cent of infections in the State.
There is growing 'disquiet' within Government and medical circles over the large increase in cases of the more transmissible variant, according to The Irish Times.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the variant, first detected in India, accounted for up to 20 per cent of Covid cases reported in the last week.
It comes as an additional 284 Covid cases were confirmed in the Republic yesterday, according to the Department of Health.
As of midnight on Sunday there were 53 people in hospital with the disease, of whom 13 are in intensive care units.
Dr Holohan said “a number of outbreaks” reported this week were associated with the Delta variant.
“This is similar to a pattern being seen in a number of other EU member states,” he added.
“In the UK, Delta has been the dominant strain of Covid-19 for a number of weeks and now they are beginning to experience a rise in hospitalisations.
“It is really important that people who are not fully vaccinated continue to follow all public health advice.
“This includes people who are waiting for their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“People should take a vaccine when it is offered to them and in the meantime they should continue to avoid crowds, limit contacts, avoid meeting up indoors and work from home where possible.”
The Delta variant is considered to be over 50 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, first identified in the UK, which is the current dominant variant in Ireland.
The first dose of AstraZeneca is just 33 per cent protective against the Delta variant while the second dose is over 80 per cent protective.
The chief medical officers in Ireland and Northern Ireland, Dr Holohan and Sir Michael McBride, have highlighted their 'growing concern' at the Delta variant of Covid-19.
Following a meeting at the weekend, the chief medical officers reminded people who are intending to travel across the Border over the coming days to be alert to the epidemiological situation in the relevant local areas and to ensure that “they avoid activities which could place them or their families at risk of Covid-19 infection”
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he was very worried about the Delta variant. “We know its now the dominant variant in Britain” and it was spiking in different places. “We have a spike in Derry city and … the public health experts say its only a matter of time before it becomes the dominant variant here.
“We have a lot of people who are not fully vaccinated, we have younger people who have not been vaccinated yet at all and the emerging evidence from the UK is that this could be significantly more severe, so the number being used at the moment is it leads to 2.6 times on average more hospitalisations including younger people. So we have to take this and we are taking this absolutely seriously” he told Newstalk on Monday evening.
While some Ministers have privately expressed concern about the short term risk about those who are not fully vaccinated, there is a general agreement in Government that the next phase of reopening, which includes indoor dining, will go ahead as planned on July 5th.
“My view is that things proceed as planned,” a senior Minister told The Irish Times.
Virologist Dr Kim Roberts, an assistant professor of microbiology at Trinity College Dublin, has expressed concern about the easing of restrictions with regard to indoor services on July 5th.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Dr Roberts said people needed to be prepared that there could be changes about the easing of restrictions.
It was not a case of putting a stop to the easing of restrictions, it was about trying to keep people safe, she said.
Dr Roberts said she was very concerned that the Delta variant could lead to “a big outbreak” from indoor spaces. There had not been enough messaging about the importance of ventilation in indoor spaces, she added.
“This variant is potentially very nasty, this virus is very nasty. Staying cautious is the best way to stay safe.”
Dr Roberts said it was important to monitor ventilation in indoor spaces which was why she was “very worried” about the easing of restrictions for indoor spaces.
The jump in the number of cases of the Delta variant in Ireland from five per cent to 20 percent was “of significant concern”, she said and there was now the prospect that the variant could rise rapidly in Ireland.
Additional reporting from Vivienne Clarke