Health officials are “deeply concerned” about the emergence of the B.1.1.529 Covid variant in South Africa.
The new strain, which is expected to be named ‘Nu’ in the coming days, has not yet been detected in the EU, although some cases have been recorded in Hong Kong.
The UK has banned flights from six African nations as a result, amid fears that the variant could travel overseas.
The World Health Organisation has not yet declared ‘Nu’ as a variant of concern, however officials are meeting on Friday to “assess its significance”.
What is ‘Nu’?
Concerns were first raised by officials in South Africa on Tuesday following the discovery of a number of “significant” mutations of Covid-19.
The alert came following sample tests from mid-November.
How dangerous is it?
According to Sky News, the new strain “could potentially evade” some levels of immunity provided by vaccines.
Reporter Ivor Bennett explained: “The first thing to say is that there is a high level of concern indeed within the British government around this new variant because it is considered, by officials here, to be the worst seen so far.
“The main difference is the number of mutations, so this new variant has around 30 different mutations and that is twice as many as what the Delta variant had.
“The fear is mutations will help the virus potentially evade immunity that’s been built up by the vaccine and make it more transmissible.”
What have the Government said?
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.
They said: “The Department of Health has, in recent days, been monitoring the emergence of a new variant (B.1.1.529), of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This variant has been identified in a number of countries in southern Africa and in Hong Kong.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) is meeting tomorrow to further assess the significance of this variant. The WHO has not yet designated this variant as a variant of concern.
“The ECDC has reported that it continues to monitor all emerging evidence in relation to this variant.
Do you want the latest political news and analysis straight to your inbox?
Our brand-new politics newsletter brought to you by political correspondent Ciara Phelan explores the big talking points of the week to keep you bang up to date.
From exclusive interviews to highlighting the issues that matter to Ireland – we’ve got you covered.
Simply sign up to our free newsletter here and we’ll do the rest
“The Department is aware of measures taken by the Government of the United Kingdom including the suspension of flights from a number of African countries.
“No cases of this variant have been reported in Europe to date, but the Minister for Health is deeply concerned.
“The Department has been in contact with colleagues in Northern Ireland and we will continue to liaise with UK authorities.
“The Department’s advice to the Minister will continue to be informed by relevant guidance emanating from the ECDC and the WHO.”