Three cases of a new COVID-19 variant, first identified in Brazil, have been detected in Ireland.
While the development of variants is not unusual and many have little or no impact, there are concerns that the P1 variant is much more transmissible and it is still unclear whether current vaccines protect against it.
"While there is currently no microbiological or epidemiological evidence of any change in transmissibility of P1, this is plausible. Further studies are required to determine whether this variant is likely to have an impact on vaccine effectiveness or infection severity," commented the Department of Health's deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn.
He said that the three cases identified in Ireland are all directly associated with recent travel from Brazil. All are being followed up by public heath teams with enhanced public health measures in place.
"Anyone who has recently travelled from Brazil, or any of the other 19 countries recently designated by the Minister for Health as ‘Category 2', is required by law to quarantine at home for 14 days.
"In addition any such passengers should phone any GP or GP out of hours service to arrange a free COVID-19 test. The test should be done five days after you arrived in Ireland or as soon as possible after those five days," Dr Glynn said.
However, he emphasised that whatever the result of this test, people who have travelled from Brazil must still complete the 14-day period of quarantine.
He noted that the P1 variant has previously been identified in a small number of European countries, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.
Dr Glynn reiterated that people should continue to follow public health measures.
"Detection of this variant in Ireland does not change the fact that our best defence against all forms of COVID-19 is to stick with the public health measures that have proved to be effective in reducing incidence of disease in our communities.
"We must continue to wash our hands well and often, wear a mask, cough and sneeze into our elbows, keep two metres social distance from others and avoid crowds, and always remember that it is imperative to phone your GP at the very first sign of COVID-19 symptoms," he said.
For more information on what to do if travelling to Ireland during the pandemic, click here.
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