Covid-19: Indian strain designated as variant of concern in Ireland
Twenty cases of B1.617.2, which is spreading rapidly in the UK, identified in State up to last week
A healthcare worker takes a nasal swab from a policeman during Covid-19 testing in Prayagraj, India. A form of Covid-19 first identified in India has been officially designated a variant of concern in Ireland. Photograph: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP.
The Health Service Executive added the B1.617.2 variant to the list of variants of concern VoCs on Monday and has issued new guidance in relation to it and the three others.
A variant of concern is one that is more transmissible, more lethal or that could evade the immune response.
The Indian variant has been spreading rapidly in the UK, where cases are doubling weekly from a low base. Up to last week, 20 cases had been identified in Ireland.
UK estimates suggest the variant is at least as transmissible as B.1.1.7, the UK variant that was 70 per cent more transmissible than previous variants and quickly became dominant in Ireland after Christmas.
Some British experts believe the Indian variant is actually more transmissible than B.1.1.7 and say the UK should slow down the easing of restrictions because of its rapid spread.
B1.617.2 is regarded as one of the factors driving the current huge surge of cases in India, though evidence is not conclusive.
Due to concern over the importation of cases, India was in late April added to the list of countries for which mandatory hotel quarantine is imposed on travellers.
Up to now, variant cases have struggled to establish a foothold in Ireland due to the dominance of the B.1.1.7 UK variant. This may no longer be the case if the Indian variant is even more transmissible.
However, rapidly increasing rates of vaccination mean more people are protected against serious illness caused by the virus.
There are now four designated variants of concern in Ireland; the UK and Indian variants, the Brazilian variant P1 and the South African variant B.1351.
Cases involving these strains are investigated by outbreak control teams, with contact tracing extending back 14 days prior to diagnosis.
Almost 30 per cent of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Ireland are genetically sequenced so that the variant involved can be identified.