Another Covid-19 variant, dubbed Orthrus, is being monitored here amid concern it could lead to a reversal in the downward trend of patients being admitted to hospital with the virus.

The CH.1.1 variant, another offshoot of Omicron, has been sequenced in 694 cases so far. It is being blamed for contributing to an increase in hospital admissions in the UK last week.

It comes as the spread of Covid-19 in this country has continued to decline. The numbers of patients in hospital with the virus dropped to 158 yesterday, the lowest in around 18 months, with 21 of these in intensive care.

The seven-day positivity rate for people having PCR tests is also down to 7.9pc, which compares with 20pc in early January.

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Another feared variant, XBB.1.5, known as Kraken, does not seem to have pushed up cases, but health chiefs in the UK are worried about its combined impact with Orthrus. 

The reason for the concern around the Orthrus variant is that it features a mutation seen in the more severe Delta variant.

It has mutations including P681R, which makes it better at attacking cells and causing more severe illness.

The counties with the highest incidence rate per 100,000 last week were Offaly, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Donegal and Kerry. The counties with the lowest rate were Longford, Leitrim, Monaghan, Clare, Louth and Kildare.

There were 848 Covid cases confirmed through PCR test, down 16.9pc in a week, with the highest number of infections recorded in the 45-54-year age group.

Self-reported home antigen tests went down 15.6pc to 1,511.

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