Public advised to avoid non-essential travel to seven southern African countries over Covid variant concern 1 month ago

Public advised to avoid non-essential travel to seven southern African countries over Covid variant concern

The WHO has named the new Covid strain and classified it as a variant of concern.

The public has been advised to avoid non-essential travel to seven southern African countries over concerns regarding a new Covid-19 variant.

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The B.1.1.529 strain was first detected in South Africa and has been named Omicron by the World Health Organisation (WHO), who classified it as a variant of concern.

On Friday, it was announced that Belgium had detected Europe's first case of Omicron.

In a statement, the Irish Government said travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe poses a risk, based on detection of Omicron cases or geographical proximity to countries where cases of the variant have been detected.

Ireland currently has no direct flights from any of these states.

Due to "increased concern" over the variant, the Government said Ireland will now align with the EU recommendation to apply the “emergency brake” in respect of the seven countries concerned and discourage travel to and from them.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has also changed its travel advisory to “avoid non-essential travel” to these nations, while visa requirements for the countries are being updated by the Department of Justice.

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Irish residents returning home from the seven states will be required to undergo a strict home quarantine regardless of their vaccine, recovery or test status and will have to undergo PCR testing.

"Mandatory Hotel Quarantine options are being examined on a contingency basis," the Government added.

It also said the situation regarding the new variant will be kept under continuous review by all relevant bodies.

Infectious Disease Epidemiologist for the WHO Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said that while little is known about the variant yet, it does contain a "large number of mutations".

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"The concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves," she explained.

"Right now, researchers are getting together to understand where these mutations are and what that potentially may mean for our diagnostics, our therapeutics and our vaccines."