DUBLIN (Reuters) – Irish health chiefs believe a new variant of COVID-19 found in neighboring Britain is present in Ireland, but is not solely responsible for the rapid spread of the disease which will require restrictions beyond those announced just 24 hours ago.
The presence of a more infectious variant from at least the second week of December is based on preliminary data from selected samples from last weekend, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) said in a statement.
Approximately 30,000 people have traveled to Ireland from Britain in the last two weeks, mostly to see their family for the Christmas holidays.
The number of people in Ireland infected with someone who has COVID-19 – the so-called reproduction number – has risen to 1.5 to 1.8, the highest level since March. NPHET also gave the government new vague recommendations, a day after ministers significantly tightened restrictions on COVID-19.
“Every indicator of the disease is growing and growing fast. Our level of concern continues to escalate, ”Ireland’s chief physician Tony Holohan said in a statement.
Holohan declined to comment on the new recommendations at a news conference. Ireland will close restaurants, pubs and some shops from Thursday in the third shutdown, which ministers say could last until the beginning of March.
The health service reported 938 new cases on Wednesday. The head of the COVID-19 modeling group, Philip Nolan, said the daily cases in the new year would average 1,000, even if the reproduction number could drop sharply to close to 1.
However, he said the limits announced on Tuesday will not be enough to achieve this and if the R number drops to just 1.2, Ireland will reach 2,000 cases a day by February.
Unlike the six weeks of severe restrictions that were lifted in early December, gyms and most retailers, such as department stores, can currently remain open. Some interference in the household is also allowed until January 1st.
“Given the nature of the measures and our experience so far, it’s hard to see how that set of measures would bring reproduction back below 1,” he said.
Reporting Padraic HalpinEdit Mark Heinrich and Jane Merriman