Eight more cases of the Omicron variant have been discovered in Ireland with the chief medical officer warning «We hope for the best while preparing for the worst.»
Dr. Tony Holohan said the NPHET estimates that 11% of cases are now due to the Omicron variant, an increase from less than 1% just a week ago.
It comes as Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced that the interval between getting a second and third dose of Covid has been shortened to three months.
He said the government accepted the updated advice from the NIAC and confirmed that people can now receive the booster injection after three months instead of five.
He also said the NIAC has recommended a fourth treatment for those who are immunocompromised.
This must be given no later than three months after the individual has received the third Covid vaccine.
Dr Holohan said a total of 18 cases of the Omicron variant have now been detected in the country with NPHET announcing another 4,688 Covid-19 cases.
And 518 patients with Covid-19 have been hospitalized due to Covid-19, of whom 108 are in the intensive care unit.
Dr Holohan said: “Today we are reporting 8 more cases of the Omicron variant, confirmed by whole genome sequencing, bringing the total confirmed cases in Ireland to 18.
Potential Omicron cases can be determined by the number of PCR results with ‘S gene target failure’ – just as we did when the alpha variant appeared a year ago.
“Using this methodology, we estimate that 11% of cases are now due to the Omicron variant, an increase from less than 1% just one week ago.
While evidence of disease severity and immune escape continues to emerge, this variant is clearly more transmissible.
“We hope for the best while preparing for the worst.
“Over the coming days and weeks, global health authorities will learn more about this alternative and the risks it poses.
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«In the meantime, we remain confident in basic measures to reduce transmission.»
A statement from NPHET also said: «The proportion of cases that are Omicron is now rising significantly and it is likely that there is now widespread community transmission of this variant.
«It is likely that the proportion of cases due to the Omicron variant will increase very rapidly over the coming days.»
Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly said the NIAC also recommended that individuals who received a single dose of the two-dose core vaccine schedule and who subsequently contracted Covid, should complete the initial vaccination course four weeks after diagnosis or symptom onset.
He said the NIAC reiterated that booster doses should continue to be provided in the previously recommended order of priority.
Minister Donnelly said: “Reducing the dosing interval is an important step given the current epidemiological situation in Ireland and our growing concern about the prevalence of the Omicron variant.
This move should reduce severe illness, hospitalization and mortality, as well as impact infection rates.
“Continue to avoid crowds and minimize your contacts, wear a mask, including in crowded outdoor environments, keep your distance – if you feel unsafe and feel unable to leave, open windows and avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces and clean your hands regularly.
«Don’t wait until after Christmas to receive your booster vaccine or advance your first dose, the benefits of receiving your booster dose far outweigh any potential risks that may arise in the meantime.»
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