Three cases of the South African Covid-19 variant discovered in Ireland have been contained, a senior health official has said.
The first cases of the more infectious variant were confirmed in Ireland on Friday in people who had travelled from South Africa over the Christmas holidays.
Officials this week also reported an increasing presence of the Covid variant first found in England. It was detected in 25 per cent of positive cases that underwent further testing in the week to January 3rd, up from just 9 per cent two weeks earlier.
“The UK variant is of more concern to us purely because of the amount of virus that's on the island, and we know that it's transmitting in the community,” Dr Cillian De Gascun, the head of Ireland's national virus laboratory, told national news.
“The good thing about the South African variant is we know exactly where those cases came from, they have been contained, controlled and contact traced, and to the best of my knowledge there was no onward transmission.”
The Government announced its strictest lockdown measures since early last year on Wednesday, warning that a “tsunami” of infections fuelled by the UK variant and the relaxation of curbs ahead of Christmas could overwhelm the healthcare system.
The number of patients in Irish hospitals with Covid-19 rose by 12 per cent in the space of 24 hours on Saturday to 1,285, having in recent days exceeded the peak of 881 set during the first wave of infections.
Fourteen more patients were admitted to intensive care units (ICU). That brought the total number receiving critical care to 119 and left just 27 of the 284 ICU beds in the country's public hospitals empty.
Those hospitals can increase ICU capacity safely to 375, the head of the Health Service Executive said this week. The HSE has also reached an agreement to take over private hospital ICU beds for COVID-19 admissions.