The World Health Organisation has said the new variants have not driven Ireland’s surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks.
It comes as Ireland struggles with the highest virus rate in the world, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The country’s seven-day rate jumped from 5.7 per 100,000 on December 10th to 132.2 on January 10th.
Speaking at a virtual event last night, Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme said the new variants have given the virus “new energy.”
He insisted however that Ireland’s surging rates are “mainly due to increase social mixing and reduction of physical distancing” over Christmas.
Around 45% of recent cases in Ireland have shown the presence of the UK variant, according to recent sampling.
The Taoiseach yesterday said Ireland’s surge can be traced back to a 'perfect storm' of Christmas socialising, the new variants and the winter season.
Dr Ryan said Ireland is doing “superb surveillance” on the new variants.
“They have not been the driver of new transmission but new variants can and will emerge,” he said.
“Some will not be significant in terms of transmission or in terms of severity but some may be and that is why we need a comprehensive monitoring framework to keep an eye on those and ensure our measures are adapted as needed.”
He said there is evidence the UK variant has increased the transmissibility of the disease but noted that it has not made it any more severe.
“I was talking to my colleague Dr Tony Holohan, the Chief Medical Officer in Ireland, earlier and we were almost saying that this was like adding a substitution in the second half of a football game,” he said.
“It doesn’t change the rules of the game. It doesn’t change what you do but it gives the virus some new energy; some new impetus.
“It adds to the challenge you face because the opposition is bringing on some new players to the field.
“It doesn’t change the rules of the game. It doesn’t change what we need to do to win. It just changes the strength of the opponent.”
"Glimmer of hope"
Announcing 4,929 new cases last night, Dr Holohan said the country was seeing “the first glimmer of hope” in the fight to reduce virus rates.
He warned however that the situation in Irish hospitals is “likely to get worse before it gets better.”
Yesterday afternoon, there were 1,582 COVID-19 patients in hospital, while 146 people were in intensive care with the virus.