A new variant of potential concern identified in Ireland for the first time is connected to travel, according to a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
Dr Cillian de Gascun, also the director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, said one case of the B1525 variant had been identified in the east of the country through contact tracing.
Dr de Gascun told RTE radio’s News at One that the variant was different from others because it had a mutation of concern which could be vaccine resistant.
At this stage the variant was of interest rather than concern, he said. Any concern was theoretical, as to date it did not appear to be more transmissible.
The one case of the B1525 variant, also known as the Nigerian variant, emphasised the importance of public health measures, Dr de Gascun said.
The three cases of the so-called Brazilian variant in the country had been identified because the people involved self-isolated and adhered to the restrictions.
Ireland’s levels of sequencing had increased from one per cent to between 13 per cent and 15 per cent, as a result of the encouragement of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Dr de Gascun said this compared to between five per cent and 10 per cent elsewhere.
This was not just about data, this was about end to end surveillance of the virus, he said.
However, Dr de Gascun cautioned that sequencing formed an important part of the country’s overall Covid-19 strategy but was not a silver bullet.
“The virus does not recognise borders,” he said.
There were challenges across the board on the planned quarantine measures, he added. “We want people to avoid all non-essential travel.”
It comes as Nphet confirmed the presence of the B1525 variant — which previously emerged in the UK and Nigeria — in Ireland at a briefing on Thursday evening.
Speaking at the briefing, Dr de Gascun said a further four cases of the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa had also been identified, bringing the total to 15.
The head of the HSE's Covid Test and Trace system, Niamh O'Beirne, has said there will be more investigative reverse contact tracing going back seven days to allow pattern analysis.
With the arrival of new variants in the country, health officials were seeing higher levels of positivity and needed to watch very carefully for patterns, she said.
Ms O'Beirne said that if someone who had a positive Covid-19 test result had travelled, it was the role of test and trace to get their travel history, which they would “hand over” to UCD for “enhanced contact tracing”.
The National Virus Reference Laboratory at UCD would then check the gnome to see if it was a variant.