Mink farm in Laois
Samples have been taken from animals on a mink fur farm in Laois to test for the possibility that they may have a mutant form of Covid-19 that could impact the effectiveness of a vaccine.
The Department of Agriculture has confirmed that some testing has taken place at the farm in Vicarstown near the Kildare border but it would be a number of days before the results are known.
"The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has collected samples from each of the farms to test for SARS-CoV-2 virus in each of the three farms to see if the virus is present in Irish mink farms. Test results should be available by the end of the week. Like all surveillance programmes the issue will be kept under constant review," said the statement.
The Department said the outcome of testing of staff on mink farms is a matter for the HSE.
There are three mink farms operating in Ireland. The Vasa Ltd Fur Farm is located in Co Laois and has operated since the 1960s. The others operate in Donegal and Kerry. They have so far not commented.
Testing is understood to have taken place on staff at the locally owned farm but the HSE or the Department of Health could not confirm this.
However, the Departement of Agriculture said human testing is underway.
"To date no animals have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 virus in Ireland. It is also our understanding that the Department of Health is not aware of any human cases of COVID-19 associated on mink farms here," said a statement.
The Department of Agriculture said in 2019 that these are seen as large farms producing approximately 110,000 pelts per annum.
The Department said that while COVID-19 is predominantly a disease of humans and that the main route of transmission of COVID-19 worldwide remains human to human spread, it has been following closely developments worldwide in relation to Covid-19 in animals, including mink.
A statement added that officials have been in close cooperation with colleagues in the Department of Health, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and the HSE monitoring national and international developments in relation to SARS-CoV-2 virus in animals.
It said it has had ongoing engagement with the mink farms since early summer and whilst there is no current suspicion of disease in mink in Ireland, DAFM will test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus in each of the three farms as part of enhanced surveillance. Like all surveillance programmes, it said the issue will be kept under constant review.
"The Department has written to mink farms in Ireland, on a number of occasions this year, and continue to engage with them to provide information on SARS-CoV-2 infection in mink and to advise on the implementation of biosecurity measures to prevent their mink being exposed to the virus. The advice also includes strict adherence to the HSE public health guidelines on COVID 19. No mink have been imported into Ireland during 2020," it said.
The Department added that since June, the Danes had implemented a phased response to controlling the spread of the disease with a limited cull of infected farms. The recent developments in Denmark in relation to the potential impact on future vaccine efficacy is of concern," said a statement.
The agriculture department says a collaborative One Health approach to disease management which is implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is an integral part of its strategy to deal with new and emerging diseases with zoonotic potential.
The Department says it also has engaged with the European Commission and is working closely with the Public Health Authorities, including the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and the HSE monitoring national and international developments in relation to SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The Department says it has produced awareness material in relation to COVID-19 for animal owners, including a Frequently Asked Question Document which includes advice for example in situations where an animal requires care or exercise in a household where someone has COVID-19 or is restricting their movement or self-isolating in line with HSE advice. It said this is available to view along with specific protocols for livestock farmers regarding TB testing and the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 on the dedicated COVID hub of the Department website.
Denmark, the United States, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden have reported new coronavirus cases linked to mink farms according to the World Health Organization said.
Denmark has imposed strict measures after a mutation of the virus jumped from minks to 12 people.
The Danes fear the mutation could threaten the effectiveness of any future vaccine. The Danish Government has ordered the slaughter of all the estimated 15-17 million minks in the country.
Travel restrictions into and out of Denmark from Ireland are in place.