Over 200 Delta variant cases in State, as EU agency warns on easing restrictions

TDs tell Varadkar country should find way of ‘living with’ variant, as ECDC calls for caution

The ECDC has warned any easing of Covid restrictions could lead to a ‘fast and significant’ increase in cases, with an associated rise in hospitalisations and deaths. File photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

The ECDC has warned any easing of Covid restrictions could lead to a ‘fast and significant’ increase in cases, with an associated rise in hospitalisations and deaths. File photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

 

More than 200 Delta variant Covid-19 cases have now been reported in the Republic, according to latest data.

The 204 reported cases of the variant account for 8.1 per cent of all cases reported here over the past four weeks, according to internationally collected data.

The variant accounts for almost 90 per cent of new UK cases and nearly half of all cases sequenced in Portugal, according to the data, published by the Gisaid initiative, which tracks virus variants.

It takes about two weeks to genetically sequence cases for the variant involved, and about 40 per cent of all cases in the Republic are sequenced.

However, Government Ministers, relying on broader, more readily available scientific data, have estimated the proportion of Delta variant cases could over the past week be approaching 20 per cent of new infections.

The Delta variant will account for 90 per cent of all new Covid-19 cases in the EU by the end of summer, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has forecast.

The variant will account for 70 per cent of all new infections in the bloc by early August and 90 per cent by the end of the month, the ECDC says in a threat assessment published on Wednesday.

Assuming a halving of existing measures to control the spread of Covid-19, the EU agency is predicting that Covid-19 cases will increase in all age groups, with the highest incidence among those aged under 50.

Any relaxation of restrictions could lead to a “fast and significant” increase in cases, it warns, with an associated rise in hospitalisations and deaths.

Circulate extensively

It is “very likely” the variant will circulate extensively during the summer, particularly among younger individuals who are not targeted for vaccination, the ECDC says. “This could cause a risk for the more vulnerable individuals to be infected and experience severe illness and death if they are not fully vaccinated.

“The good news is that having received two doses of any of the currently available vaccines provides high protection against this variant and its consequences. However, about 30 per cent of individuals older than 80 years and about 40 per cent of individuals older than 60 years have not yet received a full vaccination course in the European Union. ”

The proportion of vaccinated older people in Ireland is much higher than in many other EU states.

The ECDC says it is very important to progress with the vaccine rollout “at a very high pace” and to administer second doses within the minimum authorised interval from the first dose, to speed up the rate at which vulnerable individuals become protected.

Living with Delta

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told a private Fine Gael meeting that the rise of the Delta variant is a “big concern” and that the situation in the UK is “worrying”.

He said detected case numbers here are stable, hospital numbers are flat and the vaccine rollout was “powering ahead” but there is concern over the Delta variant.

Sources said he told the meeting it’s hard to know if the rise in cases in Britain is down to the Delta variant – which has been dominant across the Irish Sea for weeks – or the reopening of society that has taken place there.

Mr Varadkar said nothing has been decided yet in terms of the further reopening of the State, due to start with restaurants and pubs being allowed to resume indoor operations from July 5th.

A number of Oireachtas members including Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan, Carlow Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan, Limerick City’s Kieran O’Donnell and Senator Barry Ward spoke of the need for the Government policy to find a way for the country to live with more transmissible version of Covid-19.

It’s understood Mr O’Donovan told the meeting that the country can’t be shut down in a “yo-yo” way saying that this would not be governance.

Mr Ward is said to have told colleagues that the Government must listen to expert medical advice but it has to weigh this against other factors like the overall impact on society and the economy, and the Coalition must be “seen to govern”.

Dublin Fingal TD Alan Farrell picked up on comments by chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, who said that people who aren’t vaccinated should not travel abroad.

Mr Farrell, whose constituency includes Dublin Airport told the meeting he had a “problem” with this intervention as Mr Holohan’s comments are viewed by the public as an “edict” rather than advice.

The EU’s planned digital green certificate for travel – which the Government intends to implement – will not limit travel to people who are vaccinated but also allow trips to be taken by people who have had negative Covid-19 tests.

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