Fresh Covid variant on way as nation prepares for ‘winter virus storm’
21st July 2022
The new Omicron variant, nicknamed Centaurus, which it is feared could fuel the next Covid surge, has been found in 15 countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.
The WHO said this latest form of Omicron, also called BA.2.75, is being monitored and was discovered in May.
It said Centaurus has nine additional mutations in its spike proteins compared with the BA.2 variant that caused high levels of infection here in the spring.
There is no evidence so far of the extent to which these mutations affect transmissibility and disease severity compared with other circulating strains, the WHO said.
Among the parts of the world where it has been found are the UK, US, Australia, Germany and Canada, all summer travel destinations for people from Ireland.
It comes amid more signs that the summer wave fuelled by the BA.5 and BA.4 variants is waning here, with 782 patients with Covid-19 in hospital yesterday morning, a fall of 33 over the previous day.
Of these, 41 were in intensive care, compared with 35 on Tuesday.
The positivity rate for people eligible for PCR tests stood at 27.3pc yesterday, with the seven-day average at 29.9pc.
This compares with 35.11pc positivity last Wednesday, with a seven-day average of 38.1pc.
- Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said the country is bracing for a “perfect storm” of Covid-19 and an outbreak of flu this winter.
Flu has already brought havoc to Australia, where it is currently winter.
The fear is that countries such as Ireland and the rest of Europe will suffer the same outbreaks, along with a rise in respiratory illnesses, which have the potential to bring the health service to its knees.
“We are looking at vaccines, we are looking at testing regimes,” the minister said. “We are looking at surveillance methods for Covid. We are looking at ventilation and filtration. We are looking at rapid escalation protocols.”
He also said he has had preliminary discussions on an autumn and winter plan with acting chief medical officer Dr Breda Smyth.
Another roll-out of Covid-19 booster shots is now inevitable, and for some groups, such as older people and the very immunocompromised, this will be given along with a flu shot, possibly earlier than normal, around September.
Much will depend on the early arrival of supplies of flu jabs, but given the experience of Australia, which saw the virus spreading in May, the emphasis will be on vaccinating the most susceptible first.
Major outbreaks could in- crease absences from work and risk another setback to the drive to cut hospital waiting lists.
Mr Donnelly, speaking at Dublin’s St Vincent’s Hospital, launched a Sláintecare report on pilot schemes testing ways of treating people while taking the burden off hospitals.
One involved care of patients with headaches and was tested on three sites. It involved the HSE, GPs, the Migraine Association of Ireland and pharmacies.
It led to new guidance for management of headaches and provides for trained nurse prescribers who work alongside neurologists with expertise in headaches.
It meant referrals to outpatient departments fell, and there was a 23pc reduction in waiting lists for help.