Concerns have been expressed about a new variant of Covid-19 detected by South African scientists.

The variant – called B.1.1.529 – has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are of concern because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, scientists told reporters. at a press conference Thursday.

Early signs from diagnostic labs suggest the variant has grown rapidly in the most populous province of Gauteng and may already be present in the country’s other eight provinces, they said.

South Africa confirmed around 100 specimens as B.1.1.529 but the variant was also found in Botswana and Hong Kong, the Hong Kong case being a traveler from South Africa. Scientists say up to 90% of new cases in Gauteng could be due to B.1.1.529.

Following the announcement, UK authorities said they were stepping up checks on travelers from South Africa.

The Foreign Office was invited to comment on Thursday evening, but was unable to say how it plans to respond.

Meanwhile, the HSE said it was preparing to open three more Covid-19 testing centers and adding more mobile testing teams to meet unprecedented public demand during the latest wave of infections.

Testing

Paul Reid, chief executive of HSE, said it was “extremely difficult” to keep up with the demand for Covid-19 testing and he appreciated the frustration felt by people waiting for testing.

The health system’s resources were “not elastic” and “not infinite,” he said, and that although the HSE had increased the capacity for Covid-19 testing, there were “limits” to what he could do.

Around 210,000 Covid-19 lab tests have been processed in the past seven days and these routine community tests have been expanded to a “surge capacity” of 20,000 per day from 15,000.

Damien McCallion, national testing manager for HSE, said he had had his busiest day for community testing on Tuesday with more than 27,000 appointments recorded.

In addition, the HSE was performing 5,000 Covid-19 tests per day through the hospital system.

“There is a huge volume going, but we recognize that there are people who have to wait for a test. It’s an anxious time when you do that, ”he said.

Regardless of how long you wait for a test, he advised people to stay home and restrict their movement until they are symptom-free for at least 48 hours.

Boosters

The HSE has started offering walk-in clinics for Covid-19 booster vaccines to people in their 60s and healthcare workers at designated times through its vaccination centers.

In an acceleration of the booster program, walk-in clinics will be available to eligible groups after at least five months have passed since their second dose of a Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccine in their initial immunizations. , or three months since the individual received the Janssen vaccine alone.

It comes as the Department of Health said there were 4,764 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Thursday. At 8 a.m. Thursday, 598 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized, including 126 in intensive care.

A breakdown of the local area showed Drogheda remained the most affected location in the state for Covid-19 for the second week in a row, despite the infection rate falling in the city of Co Louth last week.

In Northern Ireland, five more people with Covid-19 have died and 1,549 more cases were confirmed on Thursday.


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