Nphet confirm new variant B1525 detected in Ireland as 35 deaths and 613 cases confirmed

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer has said that good progress is being made but warned that Covid-19 is still circulating at a high level.
Nphet confirm new variant B1525 detected in Ireland as 35 deaths and 613 cases confirmed

Nphet's Dr De Gascun warned the new variants of concern will continue to emerge as the virus adapts to humans. Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Another new variant of Covid-19 has been detected in Ireland.

It is called the B1525 strain, which has been discovered in various countries around the world, including Australia, Denmark and the UK.

Dr Cillian De Gascun, the director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, says there is also now a case in Ireland.

"We just identified a case of that today so we have one reported case at this stage based on genome sequencing."

Health officials said vaccines may be less effective against the new variant but said it's far too early to be sure.

"B1525 has been recorded in a number of countries and has been associated with travel from sub-Saharan Africa.

"The reason we are potentially concerned about it is that it possesses the E484K amino acid change which has been associated with a reduced response to neutralising antibodies. So, a potential impact on vaccine effectiveness."

The average number of close contacts per confirmed Covid case has risen to 3.3.

The average number of close contacts per confirmed Covid case has risen to 3.3.

Dr De Gascun warned the new variants of concern will continue to emerge as the virus adapts to humans.

The news of the variant comes as a further 35 Covid-related deaths have been confirmed.

Of these deaths, 21 occurred in February and 12 occurred in January. One fatality is from November and another is under investigation.

The youngest person among today's recorded fatalities was 53 and the oldest person was 102 years old. The average age of those who died was 85 years.

The HPSC has also been notified of 613 confirmed cases of the virus.

Of the cases notified today, 66% are under the age of 45 while the average age is 34 years old.

Dublin accounts for the highest number of cases with 224 located in the capital. There are 39 in Limerick, 37 in Meath, 34 in Westmeath and 33 in Offaly.

The remaining 246 cases are spread across all other counties.

As of 8am this morning, there are 591 Covid-19 patients in hospital, of which 138 are in ICU. There have been 20 additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.

The latest vaccine data shows that there have been 359,616 doses administered as of February 22 - 226,291 people have received their first dose and 133,325 have received their second.

Dr Ronan Glynn said that good progress has been made and many key indicators of disease levels in the community are continuing to fall.

"However, we must remember that Covid-19 is still circulating at a high level and, we are still seeing positivity rates of around 15% in the community.

As we see more of our children return to school next week, it is important that we continue to follow all of the public health guidance, including on the school run.

Dr Glynn reminded people of the importance of social distance, mask-wearing and hand washing as well as the importance of contacting your GP if you think you may have Covid or are showing symptoms.

"Most importantly, ensure that children do not attend school if they display symptoms of Covid-19, as per the HSE website, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell.

"If you display any of these symptoms, you should self-isolate and phone your GP or GP out-of-hours service to arrange for a test."

Echoing Dr Glynn, Professor Philip Nolan said the country is making "continued and significant progress, albeit more slowly".

According to Professor Nolan, the reproduction number remains below 1 - between 0.6 and 0.9 which he hailed as a real achievement given the higher transmissibility of the UK variant that now accounts for 90% of cases.

Our collective efforts to suppress transmission of the virus and bring the disease to manageable levels are having a positive impact.

"If we continue to work together, we can keep each other safe as the vaccination programme offers wider protection."

Sharp drop in cases among healthcare workers attributed to 'vaccine effect'

The HSE says we could be starting to see a "vaccine effect" after a sharp drop in Covid cases in nursing homes and among healthcare workers.

Last week, there were 91 confirmed cases in residential care facilities - compared to almost 500 the previous week.

Latest figures show over 226,000 people have received their first dose of a Covid vaccine - including 87,000 in nursing homes.

HSE Chief Clinical Officer, Dr Colm Henry, says they are also noticing a sharp drop in infections among healthcare staff.

"From peaking in week two at 1,000 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 in hospital staff to last week when it was 95 and now in week six, we are looking at 50," said Dr Henry.

"That is a very severe drop and it is very difficult to attribute that to falling community transmission alone.

"The most likely explanation is we are now seeing an early vaccine effect."

Director of the National Immunisation Office, Dr Lucy Jessop, said the vaccine rollout is cause for great hope.

"The vaccine is already having a significant impact on our healthcare workers.

"In the last week in January, almost 1,400 healthcare workers contracted Covid-19; that number was less than 300 last week. 

"This is wonderful news and clearly demonstrates the early impact the vaccination programme is having.

"However, even if you have received your Covid-19 vaccine, you must continue to wash your hands, wear a face covering, maintain a social distance and keep your close contacts to a minimum."

One Covid-positive case had 38 close contacts 

There is concern about a rise in household mixing after an increase in the number of close contacts per confirmed Covid case.

It has risen to an average of 3.3 but one person who tested positive last week had 38 close contacts.

The positivity rate among close contacts in the community has risen to 27% and 35% for households.

Chief executive Paul Reid said people socialising more is a concern and any slight increase can have reasonably significant implications depending on the level of transmission of the virus.

"Increasingly, we are seeing people mix between homes or apartments and certainly in student settings, we are seeing that increasing again.

"Some students sharing and moving between apartments and maybe going to watch a sports game - a premiership match or the Super Bowl.

"People are mixing and we can follow the transmission levels between apartments and homes."

The University of Limerick is now funding high visibility Covid-19 Garda policing in light of increasing concerns about student gatherings in the private housing estates surrounding the university.

Opposition brands proposed laws for mandatory hotel quarantine 'a holy mess'

The Dáil has passed new laws to enforce mandatory hotel quarantine for people coming into Ireland from high-risk countries.

It means they will have to quarantine for two weeks in a state-picked hotel upon entering the country.

The bill before the Dáil today is limited to mandatory hotel quarantine for high-risk countries recommended by Nphet.

Despite that, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly says it is among the most restrictive regimes in Europe and that more countries can be added at the government's discretion.

"The argument being made is therefore hotel quarantine applies only to these 20 states and I just want to assure the house that is absolutely not the case," Mr Donnelly said.

The Opposition looks set to fail with amendments to get that extended to all passengers coming here for non-essential reasons.

Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty says that is the only approach that will work.

Mr Doherty has also criticised the Government for lack of communication with middle-ranking Gardaí, after a spokeswoman for the AGSI said they do not know how it will work.

"She said that they have received no consultation, no guidelines, no operational instructions in respect to that role.

"Can you respond to that Minister because this is a mess, a holy mess and if the Gardaí do not have an idea what they are supposed to be doing then how does anybody else have one?

"The only proper way to deal with this is to ensure mandatory hotel quarantine for non-essential travel."

The Government is expected to win the votes on this legislation but it may be weeks before it is enforced.

Northern Ireland: Five deaths and 281 new cases 

There have been five additional Covid-related deaths in the North.

In the last 24 hours, 281 people tested positive for the virus.

There are 341 patients being treated for the disease in hospitals in Northern Ireland, with 31 in ICU.

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