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Ireland declares Indian SARS CoV-2 variant a ‘variant of concern’

Ireland has officially declared the B.1.617.2 or Indian variant of SARS CoV-2 as a “variant of concern” (VOC), according to updated guidance from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC). 

The declaration was made on 10 May, one day prior to the variant being officially named as a VOC by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Prior to this it was listed as a variant of interest.

VOCs are considered more serious than variants of interest due to their increased disease severity or harmfulness and their impact in reducing the effectiveness of existing public health and distancing measures.

According to the HPSC’s “Variants of Concern (VOC): Interim public health guidance” document, updated on 12 May, VOCs pose a serious risk to human health.

“Some mutations or combinations of mutations may provide the virus with a selective advantage and when these variants increase the risk to human health, they are considered to be variants of concern (VOC).”

At the end of April eight cases of the variant were detected in Ireland. Currently, individuals travelling from India to Ireland are required to enter mandatory hotel quarantine.

Travellers must quarantine for 14 days but can exit earlier if they receive a “not detected” test result following day 0 and day 10 tests.

The variant, which has spread rapidly in India, is at least as transmissible as the UK B.1.1.7. variant, according to modelled growth estimates.

Around 24 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 258,000 deaths have been recorded in India to date, with daily death tolls now over 4,000.

Its vaccination programme is accelerating, however, and round 140 million vaccines have been administered so far.

VOCs are caused by SARS CoV-2 virus mutations and have been shown to have increased transmissibility and virulence. In terms of vaccine immunity, existing Covid-19 vaccines have been shown to deliver less protection to individuals against VOCs.

The guidance states that a  whole genome sequencing (WGS) surveillance programme is being developed in Ireland and there are plans to sequence and investigate up to 1,500 virus samples weekly.

Sampling of incoming travellers, complex clusters and potential vaccine escape, and randomly-selected samples that are representative of the population is being undertaken.

When a person has a confirmed or probable variant of concern an outbreak control team is established. Identification of exposures in the 14 days prior to diagnosis is undertaken as well as wider testing.

The UK variant still accounts for the majority of Covid-19 cases detected in Ireland.

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