Dr Nick Flynn of MyCorkGp, who operates a GP practice in Hollyhill, said that while Omicron is “a variant of concern”, that there is much more to still learn about it.
“There’s going to be variants, there’ll be variants for the next two or three years, maybe more.
“With each variant the question will be, is it more transmissible, will people get more sick with it, and does it escape the vaccines?
“With this one it, looks like it might be more transmissible. There’s no reports that I understand of people being more sick with it and we don’t know about vaccine escape yet.
“Clearly, it’s a vaccine of concern because of how many mutations on the spike protein that there are, 30, as opposed to Delta where there was 13, but nobody really knows the clinical significance of that yet.
“So, yes, we should proceed with caution, but I don’t think anybody should think that this is one, unexpected, or two, a catastrophe.”
In relation to vaccine efficacy against new variants, Dr Flynn said that “the real magic of the mRNA vaccines is the adaptability to new variants”.
“Science has been amazing. It has got us a vaccine to date that has meant less people get sick and less people end up in ICU and less people die and that particular new technology, the mRNA vaccine technology is so adaptable that pharmaceutical companies can develop a new variant vaccine within 100 days and that's remarkable,” he said.
He advised the public not to panic and said that while it has to be taken seriously, we still don’t know enough about the variant “until it plays out in society”.
He said that in the meantime, people should continue with public health measures such as hand washing, social distancing, mask-wearing, ventilation and use of CO2 monitors.
Echoing Dr Flynn’s comments about public health measures, Dr Fiona Kelly of Bank Place Clinic in Castletownbere said: “If someone is worried about having been in a high-risk environment such as a poorly ventilated, crowded place, then they should consider carrying out an antigen test to protect those around them.
“This would apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. It is important to remember that if one has symptoms, an antigen test is simply not sufficient; a PCR test is required.
“In addition, if one has a positive antigen test, this should be confirmed with a PCR test which enables tracking of variants of concern as well as being important for contact tracing purposes.
“Before this variant reaches our shores, I would urge those who did not get vaccinated to do so. The evidence so far is that vaccines offer some protection against this variant, in particular protection against severe infection, hospitalisation, and death,” she said.
Dr Kelly said that there is evidence that the virus replicates more easily in unvaccinated people, which she said increases the chance of mutations.
“If everyone was vaccinated, then the mutations and consequently the virus would eventually be eradicated. This would be music to all our ears,” she said.
Professor of Physical Chemistry at University College Cork (UCC) John Sodeau said that the past couple of years have been like “living in a real-world air pollution experiment”.
“We’ve got used to the presence of biological particles like pollen, fungal spores and bacteria in our air over hundreds of years.
“But airborne coronavirus and now variants thereof have turned the air, which we breathe, into a casino.
He said that his colleague John Wenger from the Centre for Research into Atmospheric Chemistry (CRAC) has been tireless in campaigning for good ventilation and air filtration because “pristine air is the minimum we require to be healthy given that we spend about 90% of our time indoors”.
Speaking to, Mr Wenger said: “We need to double down on our efforts to prevent transmission. I strongly recommend wearing higher quality FFP2/N95 masks instead of cloth face coverings and surgical masks. We should continue to ensure that indoor spaces are well ventilated and use HEPA filters in poorly ventilated areas.” Meanwhile, Munster Rugby confirmed a positive Covid-19 case in their squad, meaning they remained in South Africa on Sunday.
The province's game against the Bulls, due to take place yesterday, had been postponed earlier in the week after the discovery of the new variant of the illness called Omicron.
The squad had been undergoing PCR testing in their hotel in Cape Town when the case emerged.