New Omicron strain of Covid discovered in Northern Ireland
"I'm not trying to be scaremongering, I just think that we need to be prepared."
A new variant of the Omicron strain of Covid has been discovered in Northern Ireland in the past number of days.
A small number of cases of "XE", the new variant, have been detected in the North, with one confirmed case in the Republic.
Kingston Mills, a professor of experimental immunology at Trinity College Dublin, spoke about the new variant on Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1 on Monday (18 April).
"XE is what's called a recombinant virus between BA.1 and BA.2.
"So we had Omicron and that was a new variant that emerged in December, and then there was a subvariant of that called BA.2 which is now the dominant variant in Ireland and other European countries.
"What can happen, and this is very common with viruses like influenza but also happens with SARs, when a person gets infected with two different viruses, those viruses can recombine to give a hybrid virus which is a mixture of the genome of one mixed with the genome of the other."
Over 1,000 cases have been detected of the XE virus has been detected in the UK so far, and it's understood that the variant could be 20% more transmissible than the BA.2 variant.
Mills said that while this variant is reasonably mild in healthy people, there are two major concerns associated with the disease.
"For the older and vulnerable people getting infected, it can still be a very serious disease, particularly if they haven't been vaccinated.
"Other variants are rising, such as this XE.
"Now it might not be any worse than BA.2 or Omicron, but in India right now, there are a series of new variants emerging.
"There were six million cases in India in April already, and there's a concern in India that there are a lot of new variants that are are emerging."
India was described as a "good location" for variants to emerge due to the lack of efficient vaccines and a semi-vaccinated population.
"I think we'll have to watch that carefully and not get complacent about the fact that this thing is completely over.
"I'm not trying to be scaremongering, I just think that we need to be prepared if we do see a variant that completely evades immunity from the vaccines.
"The current vaccines prevent severe disease with Omicron, BA.2 and probably with this XE as well, but if we got another variant that completely evaded it, then we'd be back to square one."