Ireland has "one more shot" at containing the current wave of Covid-19 infections if gaps in the response, such as, hotel quarantine and travel, are closed.
That’s according to UCC scientist Gerry Killeen, a founding member of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG), which has made repeated calls for the Government to tighten up the Covid-19 response.
Dr Killeen expressed concern in particular at the number of new Covid-19 variants detected in Ireland, largely through travel.
On Thursday, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) confirmed close to 50 cases involving new variants of the virus to date.
We keep delaying the introduction of even half-hearted mandatory hotel quarantine & meanwhile the virus goes on. If P.1 establishes itself here we are in real trouble. The virus was introduced & reintroduced by travel, but we don’t have this basic PH measure. Why do we not learn? https://t.co/M3A265l2Yl— Aoife McLysaght (@aoifemcl) March 18, 2021
Chair of the Nphet Coronavirus Expert Advisory Group Dr Cillan De Gascun confirmed 24 cases of the South African B1351 variant, seven cases of the Brazilian P1 variant, with three cases confirmed in the past week, 11 cases of the B1525 variant, and five cases of the B1526 variant, which has been detected in New York.
“The majority of these have been travel-associated. We don’t believe there has been a significant level of community transmission of these variants,” Dr De Gascun said, adding that some of the variants had been detected in the community without any obvious links to travel and were being investigated further.
Dr De Gascun added that the B117 UK variant now accounts for 90% of all Covid cases in Ireland and that it will be difficult for a new variant to come in and take over.
The South African, Brazilian and UK strains are all considered "variants of concern" by the World Health Organization and the US Centre for Disease Control.
The figures come as the Government is still working on plans to roll out mandatory hotel quarantine for incoming travellers.
Dr Killeen said the prospect of “vaccine failure” because of the emergence of new variants is a concern and not enough is being done to tighten up the public health response, such as tightening travel restrictions and closing all non-essential workplaces.
He pointed to a new scientific paper in thethis week which concluded that the AstraZeneca vaccine did not protect against mild or moderate illness in individuals who contracted the South African Covid-19 variant.
Other variants are overcoming any natural immunity from previous Covid strains. The P1 Brazilian variant took hold in a matter of weeks after it emerged from a significant outbreak in Manaus, where most of the population had some immunity to the virus following previous infection, Dr Killeen said.
If variants have been confirmed in the community, it is likely that there are other cases that have yet to be detected, he said.
“This might be our last shot at this. If you get a variant that is too infectious to contain we could go through the Manaus experience before we complete vaccinations,” Dr Killeen said.