Ireland is bracing to tackle the Nu variant that has started to spread through the South African province of Gauteng.
Officials in South Africa raised the alarm on Tuesday following the discovery of a number of mutations in the virus.
So far 100 cases of the new variant have been reported in Botswana, Israel, Hong Kong and South Africa, but none yet in Ireland or the UK.
It is believed that the South African variant can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines by up to 30%.
On Thursday evening, The UK made the decision to add South Africa to the red list for travel, including Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
The UK advised it would stop flights on Friday until a system was put in place for quarantine measures for passengers.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted: “UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency) is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now.”
Mr Javid said the new B.1.1.529 variant identified in South Africa “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain – and warned “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective”.
The B.1.1.529 strain can be detected with a normal PCR test.
In a statement released late on Thursday night, a spokesman for the Department of Health said that Minister Stephen Donnelly is “deeply concerned” about its emergence.
HSE chief Paul Reid spoke on Morning Ireland about the Nu variant, originating from a province in South Africa.
He told RTÉ: “In South Africa, I think there’s about 59 cases identified yesterday and in one province in particular where positivity rate went from about 1pc to 30pc in about three weeks so we would have an obvious cause for concern.
“We await to see further assessment through our own department and this moved from a variant of interest to a variant of concern”
59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana so far.
BBC reports: “Scientists say the variant has 50 mutations overall and more than 30 on the spike protein, which is the target of most vaccines and the key the virus uses to unlock the doorway into our body’s cells.”
What are the symptoms of the Nu variant?
There have been no reports yet if there are any new symptoms presenting with the Nu variant.
According to the WHO, the most common symptoms of Covid-19 are:
- loss of taste or smell
The less common symptoms are:
- sore throat
- aches and pains
- a rash on skin, or discolouration of fingers or toes
- red or irritated eyes.
- Serious symptoms include:
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- loss of speech or mobility, or confusion
- chest pain
On average it takes 5–6 days from when someone is infected with the virus for symptoms to show, however it can take up to 14 days.