The government will act quickly on the new SA variant
The Tánaiste said the government will act quickly on the new variant of Covid-19 first identified in South Africa.
Speaking this afternoon, Leo Varadkar said the government is looking at new visa restrictions, mandatory home quarantine and the ability to require a PCR test as well as being fully vaccinated.
He said Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan are meeting to discuss the issue and an announcement on travel restrictions is expected later today.
Mr Varadkar said European governments and the UK government were slow to act on the Delta variant and although it is not yet clear whether this variant is going to be a worrying variant, he said the government “wants to s ” ensure that we do not slow down to act on this occasion “.
“As people know, there are no direct flights from South Africa to Ireland and there is already a need for people arriving in the country to either be fully vaccinated or have a negative Covid test,” did he declare.
Mr Varadkar said other restrictions were under consideration, such as restrictions “around visas, mandatory home quarantine and the ability to undergo a PCR test as well as to be fully vaccinated.”
The Tánaiste also acknowledged that legislation regarding mandatory hotel quarantine has lapsed and said if the government decides to introduce it, it would need to legislate next week to do so.
However, he said the government was not going to wait until then to act and would announce measures later today that should go into effect immediately.
It is important to move quickly on this point, coordination across the EU is important to be effective. @dfatirl consult @roinnslainte @CMOIreland & @EU_Commission make decisions about international travel. Expect confirmation of the decision later today. https://t.co/E4iajgk3nS
– Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) November 26, 2021
The B.1.1.529 variant has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are of concern because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, South African scientists have said.
Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have joined Britain in announcing travel bans.
The bans included all of South Africa and in many cases also all or some of the following countries: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said a travel decision will be made very soon.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, he said: “It’s every [EU] Member State to make a decision.
“Our starting point is that there are no direct flights between South Africa and Ireland; second, anyone coming from another country must present a Covid digital certificate or PCR test to show that they do not have Covid. This is our starting point with access in and out of Ireland. “
Mr Donohoe did not rule out the possibility of a return to mandatory quarantine in hotels, but said if Ireland needed it it would be on a very different scale.
“We had a MHQ for a very wide variety and a very wide range of countries. I hope, although I cannot be sure, if we are to restore it, that it would be limited in terms of the number of countries and therefore the capacity that we would need.
“These are the very issues on which the government will vote quickly,” he added.
In a statement last night, the Department of Health said it was monitoring the variant and said Health Minister Stephen Donnelly was “deeply concerned.”
He said no cases of the variant have been reported in Europe to date and the department “has been in contact with colleagues in Northern Ireland and we will continue to liaise with UK authorities.”
HSE CEO Paul Reid said authorities are awaiting further assessment from the WHO and the EU on the new variant of Covid-19 detected in South Africa. | Read more: https://t.co/zHSgtcSbHS pic.twitter.com/6uEajpBrAB
– RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 26, 2021
Israel has identified a variant case in a person who returned from Malawi, the health ministry said, with “two other cases of people returning from abroad” placed in quarantine.
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Assistant professor of virology at Trinity College Dublin, Kim Roberts, said vaccines may be less effective against the new variant and one of the concerns about it is the exceptional number of mutations.
However, she said, that doesn’t mean we’ve come back to square one, because vaccines will always provide a good level of protection.
Dr Roberts said it was reassuring to know that scientists are “tapping into changes” in their experiments to make sure PCR tests are working properly and understand how the virus works.
“The most disturbing variant we’ve seen”
Professor of Experimental Immunology at TCD Kingston Mills said it was “the most disturbing variant we have ever seen.”
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Prof Mills said: “I was shocked last night when I read the reports on this – some really insidious mutations in the spike protein (which) not only mimic those of the Delta, but also the beta variant – the original South African variance.
“This variant, people may not remember it, caused the real problem with the AstraZeneca vaccine, so much so that it was only 10% effective and South Africa stopped using it. use it, so it has the worst of the beta variant and the worst of the Delta variant in terms of transmissibility.
Professor Mills added: “We must at all costs prevent this virus from entering Europe, including Ireland, so we must put in place very strict measures to quarantine, isolate anyone coming directly or indirectly from South Africa or other countries where there is this variant. “
Earlier, a professor of immunology at Dublin City University said there was not much information on the variant yet, but vaccine makers were able to tweak the vaccines to become more specific to the target variants as they arise.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Professor Christine Loscher said that one of the mutations in this new variant is similar to Alpha and Delta, which could accelerate its spread.
She said it had become dominant in a small number of cases and would not be surprised if the World Health Organization considered it a “worrying variant” in a few days.
WHO has said it will assess whether B.1.1.529 is a “variant of interest” or a “variant of concern,” and has so far said nearly 100 sequences of the variant have been reported with a early analysis showing that she has a “large number of mutations” requiring further study.