Dr Ultan Power, a professor of molecular virology from Queen’s University, Belfast, said that the existing data on the new variant – which appears to have originated in Southern Africa but has already been detected in Europe – is of “major concern, for sure”.
The UK’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there was “huge international concern” over the strain, and several African countries have now been added to so-called ‘red lists’ with travel effectively banned.
Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer, meanwhile, said the emergence of the variant is “undoubtedly a matter of concern” as South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini were added to the travel red list.
Dr Power, speaking to BBC Radio Ulster yesterday morning, said: “The data so far is of major concern, for sure, but it’s very early days.
“I’m delighted that the government is acting so quickly because this is one of the critiques we have had in the past, that we have waited until the horse has already bolted before shutting the door.
“This, particularly, was the case with the Delta variant coming in from India.”
He continued: “There are many mutations in the spike protein. The concern is that some of those mutations may actually influence, in a negative way, the resistance that the vaccine affords to the currently circulating strains. There is no confirmation that the vaccine is compromised but this is something that is being watched very closely.”