Omicron circulated in Ireland almost a week before first case identified

Variant accounted for more than 95% of sequenced cases in late December, HPSC says

The Covid-19 vaccination centre at the RDS in Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Covid-19 vaccination centre at the RDS in Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins


The Omicron variant of the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus was circulating in Ireland almost a week before the first official case was identified, a new report indicates.

The oldest specimen confirmed as an Omicron case dates from November 25th, according to the report from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

The first Omicron case identified by genome sequencing was announced on December 1st, 2021, but testing of retained samples from the preceding months carried out since then has shown the variant was in Ireland at least six days earlier.

Omicron was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) by South Africa on November 24th and declared a variant of concern two days later. Ireland and other European countries imposed travel bans on South Africa and other countries in the region in an attempt to slow the onset of the variant.

The travel restrictions remained in place until the Government lifted them on December 22nd. South Africa was highly critical of the restriction and claimed it was being punished for the alertness of its scientists in spotting the new variant.

According to the latest HPSC update, 1,379 Omicron cases have now been sequenced. Omicron accounted for more than 95 per cent of sequenced cases in late December.

According to a separate HPSC report, 32 children aged up to 14 with Covid-19 have been admitted to ICU during the pandemic. There were 19 admissions among the 19-24-year-old age group since mid-2020.

Three men diagnosed with the virus were admitted to ICU for every two women and 80 per cent of all those admitted had an underlying condition.

There were 38 cases of pregnant women with Covid-19 being admitted to ICU since last July and 26 in earlier waves of the pandemic.

Of the 37 women for whom vaccination data was available, 34 were unvaccinated, two were partially vaccinated and one was fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, people visiting nursing home residents have been advised to consider self-testing with antigen tests beforehand, under new guidance from Monday.

Regular visitors to residents of nursing homes and other long-term residential facilities should consider taking tests twice weekly, the Health Service Executive now advises.

The care home is not required to provide or carry out antigen tests and is not required to ask for evidence that a test has been performed.

“The inability of a visitor to perform self-testing for antigen should not result in a resident losing access to that visitor if the visitor co-operates fully with all other requirements,” the advice from the HPSC states.