It could be the invisible enemy in our midst that is playing some part in fuelling the rocketing spread of Covid-19. It has been captured at last and preliminary data has found it in the east of the country.
The new strain, which is believed to be much more infectious, may not only be driving the virus among some adults but it has been suggested it could also be easier for children to catch.
The possibility was raised by WHO envoy David Nabarro and some UK scientists yesterday that it can spread more readily among children. But like much about this strain, so full of unknowns, more scientific investigation is needed.
If it is more transmissable among children it could potentially have implications for schools reopening.
And hot on its heels yesterday came news of another mutant strain from South Africa which is even more infectious.
It is thanks to the expertise of scientists at COG-UK (the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium) that we have been alerted to the new strain in this country.
They are leading the way in trying to analyse its impact.
Prof Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist in Imperial College London, is suggesting the new variant may make children more like adults in the infection and spread of the virus.
The reopening of schools here since September has been a success due partly to the low transmission rates among children. COG-UK says it is not familiar with any data now to support that suggestion.
If it is found to spread more among children it will lead to questions about reopening schools after the Christmas break. Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan yesterday remained strongly of the view schools will reopen, saying it is a core priority.
The biggest threat would be high levels of community transmission.
Recent weeks have seen a number of school outbreaks although they remain low. Schools have continued to operate without interruption since September even during the last escalation in spread in October and the six-week lockdown.
Battening down hatches
Around 30,000 people have travelled from the UK in the last two weeks and the health authorities here are putting them in the spotlight.
GPs have been alerted and told anyone who arrived from the UK mainland in the last 14-days is being advised to self-isolate – to stay in their room and not mix with any other household members, leave the house or see visitors for a full 14 days after arrival.
This is because they could be incubating the new strain of coronavirus.
All will be contacted by the HSE via text message from the contact details they put on their passenger locator forms.
They will also be advised to contact a GP or out-of-hours service to organise for a free Covid test, whether or not they have symptoms on day five after arrival, or as soon as possible after that.
Even if their test is negative or not detected they must still self-isolate for the full 14 days.
In particular, the HSE is concerned about young and old mixing during the holidays and they must not interact with anyone who is medically vulnerable in their circle.
Many will already have had a private test and irrespective of whether this is negative or non-detected, they must go into self-isolation.
GPs were told to be on high alert for people with symptoms who have returned from the UK and to be very vigilant about infection prevention and control measures when assessing or providing care to them.
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