A new alert has been raised about another potentially more infectious strain of coronavirus, originating in Brazil, as the death toll from Covid-19 continues to mount.
Anyone travelling from Brazil is being asked to self-isolate from the day of arrival and have a Covid-19 test urgently.
The new variant has not yet been found here.
However, a warning about it follows the arrival of the more contagious UK variant which has driven up infection. Cases of a South African strain were also confirmed here.
There are two new variants from Brazil – one is believed to have increased transmissibility of between 50pc and 77pc and the other is of lesser concern.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “We are particularly appealing to employers to enable their employees to protect each other by staying at home for a full 14 days. Further risk assessment of the new variants is expected from the European Centre for Disease Control in the coming week. We must all continue to adhere to every element of public health advice.”
It comes as another 50 Covid-related deaths were announced yesterday, bringing the toll to 2,526.
Of the deaths reported yesterday, the median age of those who died was 82. The youngest was 45 and the oldest 96.
Hospitals continued to struggle with admissions rising again to 1,850 and the numbers of seriously ill patients in intensive care reaching 184, up from 169 the previous day.
There was a slight dip in the daily number of new cases to 3,498.
Meanwhile, there was some relief for the vaccination drive last night after Pfizer, which feared it would have to slow down deliveries at the end of January and early February, said this will now be confined to next week.
The reduction, due to the need to upgrade its plant in Belgium, will happen next week but it will be back to the schedule next week and will increase deliveries from February 15 with significantly more in the second quarter.
It is expected some distribution of 10,000-20,000 doses here may have to be held back to ensure everyone who got a first dose gets a second dose.
People who get the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will now have a gap of 28 days before the first and second dose, instead of 21 days.
This is to allow the HSE stretch supplies. Prof Karina Butler of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee said the decision was made to give flexibility in the dosing schedule.
She said giving it within 21 to 28 days was very reasonable and there would be no fall-off in efficacy.
“It will also harmonise with the 28-day schedule of the Moderna vaccine which we also have without any loss efficacy and simplify the logistics of the administration.”
It will give another weeks’ window for first doses. There is evidence of some protection from the first dose at nine to 12 days.
There are cases where someone who got the vaccine developed symptoms and these are people who were already exposed to and incubating it.
The plan is to administer 47,600 doses next week and give a second dose to 3,900 people.
Tadhg Daly of Nursing Homes Ireland said that no slippage can be tolerated in the roll-out of vaccines to nursing home residents. “Nursing home residents have not been the initial priority for roll-out of the vaccine and the move last weekend to accelerate roll-out to these most vulnerable people was absolutely imperative.
“The HSE revealed just 10pc of the 77,000 vaccines administered were within nursing homes, contradicting the initial pledge that residents and staff would be the number one priority.
“Every vaccination in a nursing home is absolutely vital because the people there are so susceptible to this virus.
“We are racing against the vicious spread of the virus in communities across the country in order to protect nursing home residents and staff.
“Every day is critical. Any deviation in the roll-out must entail speeding it up as opposed to it falling behind. We are seeking assurance from the HSE that there will be no impact on the people in our nursing homes that are immediately awaiting the vaccination.”
Monaghan, Louth, Limerick, Waterford and Wexford were have the highest 14-day incidence of the virus.
The counties with the lowest incidence are Leitrim, Westmeath, Wicklow and Longford.
Source: Irish News