The new Omicron variant of COVID has “probably” already arrived in Ireland, Anthony Staines, Professor of Health Systems at Dublin City University, believes.
Officially, no case of the variant has yet been detected, but Professor Staines says that is because Ireland does little genetic sequencing.
“It’s probably here already,” Professor Staines told Newstalk.
“We don’t have a very substantial genetic sequencing programme in Ireland. So we were sequencing around 10% of our cases, which is not really enough to be confident about whether it’s here or not.
“But I think it’s not time to be panicking about anything yet. We don’t know exactly how it’s going to play out just yet.”
Cases have been detected in Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy.
While in Britain, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said two cases had been found - both of which were linked to travel in southern Africa.
We have been made aware by @UKHSA of two UK cases of the Omicron variant. The two cases are linked and there is a connection with travel to southern Africa.
These individuals are self-isolating with their households while further testing and contact tracing is underway.
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) November 27, 2021
Mr Javid also announced that people in England will once again have to wear face masks while on public transport and in shops. Arrivals into the country will also have to take a PCR test and self-isolate - although the British Embassy in Ireland said people coming from other countries in the Common Travel Area would be exempt.
Yesterday Environment Minister Eamon Ryan told Newstalk that he had felt “frightened” when told about the new variant:
“I’ll be honest, I was frightened yesterday. It was a blow because I was kind of thinking, ‘If we get these boosters out, we’ll be in much better shape’ - which we will,” Minister Ryan said.
“And the prospect that you could have something that could work around those vaccines, let’s be honest, it was the most disheartening news since the start of this I guess.”
The Government has decided to apply an emergency travel ban to people coming from countries in southern Africa - although there are exceptions for EU citizens and long-term residents.
However, Professor Staines said to end the pandemic in the long-term, drug companies need to waive their vaccine patents to allow the manufacture of doses en masse in the developing world:
“It is not acceptable that we allow the drug companies to put the whole planet at risk of new variants coming out just to preserve the extraordinary profits they’re now making from vaccines.
“So we need to get real. The major obstacle to vaccinating the world is Europe and the United States. And we need to stop.
“We need to say to the drug companies, ‘If you won’t do it, we will take your intellectual property rights away from you.’”
Main image: A sign outside a COVID-19 testing facility. Picture by: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie