Taoiseach Micheál Martin has expressed concern about the new BA.4 variant and asked people who are eligible for a booster vaccine to get the jab as soon as possible.
Speaking during a visit to the Merck plant in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, Mr Martin described the detection of two cases of BA.4 in Ireland earlier this month as a worrying development.
"We are always concerned about new variants and their potential to disrupt the situation," he said.
Mr Martin said the Omicron variant could still disrupt normal life and business activities despite not being as virulent as earlier Covid variants.
"The BA.4 and BA.5 [variants] seem to be able to escape the infection immunity of the vaccines," he warned.
Mr Martin urged those who have yet to receive their booster vaccines to attend appointments for their jabs.
"I would appeal to people, particularly those who are in the position to get additional vaccines — those who are immuno-suppressed or over 65 — to please get your vaccines. Because there is no doubt vaccines prevent serious illness from Covid-19. That is the evidence."
The BA.4 and BA.5 variants are currently fuelling a new wave of Covid in South Africa. The two new sub-lineages of Omicron have been reclassified as variants of concern by the UK Health Security Agency.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reclassified BA.4 and BA.5 from variants of interest to variants of concern on May 12th.
The centre says that the growth advantage of the two strains is likely due to their ability to evade immune protection induced by prior infection and/or vaccination, particularly if this has waned over time.
There is currently no indication of any change in severity from BA.4 or BA.5 compared to previous Omicron lineages.
In his latest weekly report on Covid-19, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the overall epidemiological situation in Ireland remains broadly positive, “albeit we will need to continue to monitor developments with emerging variants over the coming weeks”.
“Although there continues to be high levels of infection and a significant number of cases receiving general hospital care, the numbers of detected infections and hospitalised cases have reduced considerably over recent weeks,” he said.