Old reliables of mask-wearing and hand-washing remain important as new BQ.1 strain set to dominate infections this winter
A new Covid-19 subvariant is expected to push up cases of the virus this winter.
How bad the surge will be is unclear but BQ.1, as it is known, is gaining ground on the most prevalent subvariant, BA.5, which has been dominant in Ireland since early summer.
It is from the expanding Omicron family and is a descendant of BA.5.
The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) has sounded a warning about the new form of Covid-19 which is better at getting around the immunity we have built up through vaccination or prior infection.
When Omicron arrived nearly a year ago it was found to be able to spread faster than Delta. It circulated first as BA.1, then BA.2 and then BA.4 and BA.5.
BQ.1 is one of a number of rising subvariants showing a growth advantage over BA.5 and it appears to be setting the pace in Europe.
The variants share similar mutations and have a spike protein which has been linked to a greater power to get around the defences in the form of antibodies we have developed from vaccines and previous infection.
The ECDC said BQ.1 and its cousin BQ.1.1 are already present at significant levels in European countries.
Yes, as of mid-October it accounted for 7pc of the virus sampled here and it makes up higher proportions in France and Belgium. The expectation is that it will make up over half of infections in Europe by the middle of November to early December. It will hit at a time of increased socialising and travel, which is expected to lead to a rise in cases.
There is currently no sign that it will lead to a higher risk of people becoming sicker. It has a high genetic similarity to BA.5. We already know that Omicron is less likely than previous variants to attack the lungs, although being unvaccinated makes people more vulnerable to complications.
Paxlovid can reduce the risk of a vulnerable person who catches the virus deteriorating, if given on time. The ECDC said there is no evidence of resistance for now.
It has mutations which can make vaccines less effective. It will also be better at evading antibodies compared with past Omicron infections.
However, the bivalent booster vaccines in Ireland protect against the Omicron BA.1 subvariant and another covers the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants. Given the new subvariants are Omicron spin-offs, scientists believe there will be some protection although the level is unclear.
The ECDC said the extent of cases depends on various factors, including the timing of the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines. It says timely vaccination is more important than what booster is administered.
It said synchronising booster vaccinations just before or at the beginning of high viral circulation is most desirable. The old reliables, including wearing a face mask, and ventilation, are also important
There is no evidence it is behind the high level of virus circulating currently, but the next two weeks should provide more insight.
The number of patients with Covid-19 in hospital was up to 472 yesterday morning from 442 on Friday, but that could be due to weekend delays in discharge. Of these, 19 were in intensive care, up from 16 on Friday. The positivity rate for PCR tests is stable, at 13.3pc.
If a rise in flu cases coincides with an increase in Covid-19 infections, it risks putting more pressure on hospitals.