LIMERICK public health officials monitoring the spread of covid-19 in the city and county have said they are “concerned” at the emergence of mutant strains of the virus locally.
Up to 20 cases of the so-called Indian (Delta / B.1.617.2), Brazilian (Gamma / P.1) and South African (Beta / B.1.351) regarded as “variants of concern or VOCs” have been detected in the mid-west region.
Director of the Public Health Mid West, Dr Mai Mannix told the Limerick Post: “The increased presence of a new, more transmissible variant of COVID-19, would pose an increased risk of infection among the population, including vulnerable and unvaccinated population.”
“A more transmissible variant means there would be a greater chance of outbreaks in communities among unvaccinated people, therefore a greater chance of people becoming seriously ill with this disease,” she added.
Daily cases being recorded in Limerick reduced to 32 on Tuesday from 78 last Friday.
The Department of Public Health Mid West, which is headquartered in the city, said the UK or Alpha B.1.1.7 variant remained the dominant strain in the Limerick region.
However in a statement, Public Health Mid West stated it remained “concerned about the spread of VOCs internationally, including the Delta variant which is becoming increasingly prevalent in the United Kingdom”.
“Our (Limerick) team adopts a cautious approach, and where there is a concern about a suspected VOC, we initiate some extra public health measures and immediately request samples of new positive cases to be tested for variants, through a process called whole genome sequencing.”
The sequencing of all Limerick positive cases for possible VOCs was sanctioned “following a noticeable increase in cases in late May this year”.
Over 1,300 new COVID-19 cases have been identified in Limerick since May 21st.
Appealing for the public to hold firm in following public health guidelines to curb the spread of the virus, Dr Mannix said: “In addition to wearing your mask, limiting social contacts, keeping a social distance, washing hands frequently, and avoiding indoor gatherings, I am encouraging people to register for a vaccine as soon as they are eligible.”
Meanwhile, the UL Hospitals Group announced it had exceeded its 150,000th dose of vaccine this Wednesday.
Last week the confirmed closure of Limerick’s only vaccination centre at Limerick Racecourse to facilitate horse racing meetings was met with consternation.
The centre closed last Saturday with further closures this Friday, June 18th, July 4th, July 10th, July 22nd.
Limerick Sinn Fein TD, Maurice Quinlivan said it was “farcical in the extreme”, adding, “the public take up on vaccinations has been excellent, but this closure creates the impression that public health falls second to commercial activity”.
Professor Paul Burke, Chief Academic Officer of UL Hospitals Group, and the Group Lead for the three Mid-West Vaccination Centres, said closures would not delay administration of vaccines locally due to significant capacity at the Racecourse centre.
“With a maximum capacity of 46 vaccination booths compared with the 32 available at the Radisson Blu, the Racecourse centre allows us to offset any delay in our vaccination programme that would have been caused in allowing for the relocation to the Racecourse, and from the events calendar at the Racecourse itself,” Prof Burke said.