Covid-19: Indian variant a ‘black cloud on horizon’, says Holohan

UK travel advice to be kept under review as ‘significant quantity’ of B.1.617.2 strain is identified there

The Indian variant of Covid-19 poses a threat to the progress made in suppressing the virus, according to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is closely monitoring variants of concern and is “concerned” about possible higher transmissibility of the Indian variant and its spread in other countries, as well as early reports of its impact on vaccine effectiveness, Dr Holohan said.

“The public are keeping the disease under control and the HSE is increasing the number of people vaccinated every day. But the variant may nevertheless pose a risk to the progress we have made. Nphet will keep a close eye on this as we move towards the end of May and consider the advice we need to provide to Government on any further easing of restrictions.

“For the most part, the sky is mostly blue but with a black cloud on the horizon which is the Indian variant,” Dr Holohan said.


Nphet was “genuinely concerned” about this variant, particularly in the light of new evidence from Public Health England suggesting vaccines may be less effective against it after a first dose.

Asked whether the UK should be added to the list of countries for which mandatory hotel quarantine was required due to the number of Indian variant cases, Dr Holohan said you would have to be concerned about the “significant quantity” of transmission there. Nphet would keep the matter under review.

A further 524 cases of Covid-19 patients were reported by Nphet on Friday. Further Covid-related data is unavailable due to the cyber-attack on the HSE.

The number of people hospitalised and in ICU is stable, the daily incidence is stable and the amount of people protected through vaccination continues to grow, according to Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group.

“We have confidence that if we can continue to limit transmission of Covid-19 through our individual behaviour and compliance to public health advice, the vaccination effect will lead us to further easing of measures in the near future.”

A total of 72 cases of the Indian variant, B.1.617.2, have been identified in Ireland, according to Dr Cillian de Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory.

“Given the size of our unvaccinated population and the apparent transmissibility of this variant, we would encourage people to remain vigilant and to continue to adhere to the public health guidance as the vaccine programme rolls out.”

Most people who are not yet vaccinated are continuing to be cautious, according to Prof Pete Lunn, of the behavioural research unit of the Economic and Social Research Institute. “Our data are consistent with the majority of people waiting until they are vaccinated before increasing their activity again.”

Dr Holohan again urged Leaving Cert students to be cautious ahead of their exams in order to avoid the risk of infection.

On Friday morning, 107 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 38 were in ICU. There were 19 additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.

Northern Ireland

There have been no further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland on Friday.

Another 84 positive cases were confirmed by the North’s Department of Health. On Friday morning there were 34 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom two were in intensive care.

Meanwhile, six Covid-linked deaths took place in Northern Ireland in the latest week statistically analysed.

Those in the week May 8th-14th took the total number of coronavirus-related deaths recorded by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) to 2,968.

The Nisra data provides a broader picture of the impact of Covid-19 than the death toll reported by Stormont's Department of Health.

The department’s statistics focus primarily on hospital deaths and only include people who have tested positive for the virus.

Nisra obtains its data from death certificates on which Covid-19 is recorded as a factor by a medical professional, regardless of where the death took place or whether the patient tested positive.

The statistics agency reports its Covid-19 data with a week lag.

The department’s death toll stood at 2,149 on May 14th.

Of the 2,968 deaths recorded by Nisra by May 14, 1,964 (66 per cent) occurred in hospitals, 774 (26 per cent) in care homes, 14 (0.5 per cent) in hospices and 216 (7 per cent) at residential addresses or other locations.

Nisra reported that up to May 14th, the deaths of 1,011 care home residents were linked to Covid-19.

The figure includes the 774 deaths that took place in care homes, and a further 237 care home residents who died in hospital having been taken there for treatment.

Care home residents make up about 34 per cent of deaths linked to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, according to Nisra.

In the week of May 8th-14th, seven coronavirus-linked deaths were officially registered in Northern Ireland, some of which took place before that week as deaths can take a number of days to register. – Additional reporting PA

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.