By Dominic McGrath and Cate McCurry, PA
Ireland’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant was identified through “blind luck”, according to public health officials.
The case involved a person who recently returned from a country in southern Africa, where the new variant was first identified. Seven designated countries in the region are now the subject of travel restrictions.
The person had returned to Ireland before the restrictions were imposed and then developed symptoms. They took a PCR test in the past week.
Outlining the details at a media briefing on Wednesday, Dr Cillian de Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL), said he had no details on the severity of the case.
He said the case “was identified within the last week, so it is a current case if you like rather than an older case.”
Dr de Gascun said the new variant may have implications for vaccine effectiveness. “I suppose what we’ve seen with previous variants, Alpha and Delta, is that if a variant has a genuine transmission advantage, that over a period of time it will ultimately become dominant.
“In many respects, that’s probably an inevitability.
“I suppose the thing I would highlight is that what the virus needs is obviously a combination of a transmission advantage and enhanced socialisation to actually transmit from person to person.”
Dr de Gascun said there was no evidence of any community transmission and that it was “blind luck” it was discovered. By chance the case was included in a regular 10 per cent sample of all cases that is referred to the NVRL’s lab each week.
In a statement, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said he was ‘optimistic’ that health protections used to fight other variants of coronavirus will work against Omicron.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed the discovery to TDs in the Dáil on Wednesday.
“There is one case has been confirmed and the CMO [chief medical officer] has issued a statement in respect of that. So one case has been confirmed from those S-gene deletion cases,” Mr Martin said.
“In that context, obviously, we will keep the economic support interventions under review,” he added.
Dr Holohan also said there has been a “very rapid increase” in testing activity in all age groups of children under the age of 18.
Meanwhile, the rates for the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme rates are being reduced from Wednesday, as part of Government plans to wind the scheme down.
The Government confirmed on Tuesday evening that new rules on travel will take effect from Friday in a bid to stop the spread of the Omicron variant.
Anyone who has recently recovered from Covid or is fully vaccinated is now required to show proof of a certified negative antigen test 48 hours before arrival, or a negative PCR test 72 hours before arrival.