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 today 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.
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.