Passengers arriving in Ireland from Britain advised to take antigen tests for five days

Six cases of Omicron variant detected in Ireland and 4,022 new Covid-19 cases reported

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said it was heartening to see large numbers of people attending walk-in vaccination centres on Thursday to receive their Covid-19 booster dose. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said it was heartening to see large numbers of people attending walk-in vaccination centres on Thursday to receive their Covid-19 booster dose. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Passengers arriving in Ireland from Britain will be advised to undertake daily antigen tests for five consecutive days, according to a Government statement issued late on Thursday night.

The first of five tests should be completed on the day of arrival from England, Scotland or Wales and people should self-isolate immediately and seek a PCR test if they develop symptoms or have a positive antigen test.

The statement said the Government had received an updated public health assessment in relation to the Omicron variant.

A number of travel-related measures have been agreed, taking account of relevant factors including the intention to continue to align with the overall European Union approach to travel, and the particular circumstances of the Common Travel Area (CTA).

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the travel advice is not regulatory and it will be up to individuals to comply with it for their own benefit.

Citing advice from the World Health Organisation, Mr Martin said: “We’re not going to stop Omicron, but we can try to delay it as best we can. We are saying to people to be conscious of this.”

He indicated it was not about curbing the spread of the virus forever, but instead “taking steps to protect people”.

Mr Martin said he did not envisage having to introduce travel restrictions or any other restrictions between now and January 9th.

Anyone eligible for a booster vaccine should avail of it where possible, if contemplating international travel in the near future, the statement on Thursday said.

Airlines and ferry companies will continue to check pre-departure test compliance, with spot-checking by border management officials also maintained at points of arrival.

The current requirement for all overseas passengers to have a “not-detected“ pre-departure Covid test - antigen or PCR, depending on vaccine recovery status - will continue to apply.

The statement also said Government Communications on Covid would be updated “to emphasise that everyone should take account of their overall health, their vaccine status, and the spread of Omicron in other countries before they decide to travel”.

A total of six confirmed cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 have now been identified in Ireland.

The Department of Health has confirmed that five additional cases of the Omicron variant have been detected, bringing to six the total number of cases identified following whole genome sequencing.

Meanwhile, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has on Thursday been notified of 4,022 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

As of 8am, 530 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 115 were in ICU.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “There are now six confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Ireland. A number of other probable cases are under investigation.

“Although this is a new variant, our early understanding gives us confidence that a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine will offer good protection against Omicron and Delta infection.”

Dr Holohan said the current wave of disease continued to be driven by the Delta variant of Covid-19.

“We know that the public health measures we are so familiar with will break the chains of transmission of Delta, and we are confident they will work on Omicron.

“Please continue to layer up on the public health advice by getting vaccinated and boosted, reducing contacts, wearing masks, keeping distance, opening windows and cleaning hands regularly.”

Dr Holohan said it was heartening to see large numbers of people attending walk-in vaccination centres on Thursday to receive their Covid-19 booster dose.

“If you are eligible for a booster dose, then please do not wait until after Christmas to receive it. You will begin to receive the benefit of your booster protection within seven days of receiving your third dose.

“This means that anybody who receives their booster vaccine this week or next can be confident in the protection the booster will offer as we move closer to the Christmas period.

“If you are yet to receive a primary dose of Covid-19 vaccine, please make arrangements to do so. The HSE will be very happy to see you. If you have any concerns about receiving your Covid-19 vaccine, I encourage you to engage with the trusted health advice available on www.hse.ie, and with your own clinician.”

Earlier, the HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry had confirmed a second case of the Omicron variant had been detected in Ireland. Before that, Gisaid, an international consortium that tracks variants of Covid-19, had reported a second Omicron case here.

The first case of the variant of concern, detected initially in South Africa, was identified in Ireland on December 1st.

The Gisaid website earlier showed that one Omicron case was detected in Dublin and the other in Co Meath.

The State’s National Virus Reference Laboratory, which tracks variants in the country, submitted an update on the variant to Gisaid on Wednesday.

News of the second case was confirmed by Dr Henry following the HSE’s weekly briefing on Thursday afternoon.

Dr Henry said at the briefing that the exact transmissibility of the Omicron variant remained unknown but it may have a growth advantage over other variants.

He said there were forecasts that it could become the dominant variant in Europe by the start of January.

There was “considerable uncertainty” around the new variant and it was “too early” to draw conclusions around the severity of the disease that it caused, he said.

Dr Henry said he had “no doubt” that there would be further Omicron cases because the experience in South Africa had shown that this was “a highly transmissible variant.”

There were “quite a number” of cases with a “marker” of the Omicron variant - the S-gene dropout - being investigated and sequenced by the National Virus Reference Laboratory.

“I have no doubt that many of those will be confirmed as Omicron cases,” he said.

Dr Henry told the HSE briefing that there were 1,500 cases a week being checked for the variant through genome sequencing, the process that identifies variants of the disease.

This would be increased to 2,000 cases a week, above the recommended level to have a “comfort zone” on genome sequencing capability, he said.

Also speaking at the briefing, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said he expected Omicron to become more dominant in Ireland and that the HSE was planning for this, but that it was still unknown when this would happen.

“We expect it is only a matter of time before we are looking at significant numbers of cases of Omicron. We expect it to become more dominant. The timeframe is unknown,” he said.

Mr Reid said the HSE was awaiting evidence on whether Omicron led to higher hospital admissions among people it infects and that would bring uncertainty to the health service during the Christmas period when case numbers were already at high levels.

Mr Reid said that “no real assurance” could be taken from the low level of cases identified in Ireland, pointing to the surge in cases in the UK were Omicron cases nearly doubled in a day.

The HSE urged people to get their third booster vaccine jabs with Mr Reid pointing to evidence from vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech this week that three doses of the vaccine increased a person’s protection against the Omicron variant 25-fold.