RTÉ News understands that testing on mink farms in Kerry, Donegal and Laois is under way as part of enhanced surveillance implemented by the Department of Agriculture in the wake of a variant of Covid-19 being discovered in mink farms in other countries.

The Department of Agriculture has written to the operators of the three mink farms here and has issued advice on biosecurity and other measures to prevent mink here being exposed to a variant of Covid-19.

No mink have been imported into Ireland during 2020, according to the department.

The World Health Organization says it has been informed of Covid-19 cases linked to mink farms in a total of six countries.

Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Italy and the US have all identified what has been called a "unique variant" of the virus on mink farms.

Twelve confirmed cases of Covid in Denmark were in people aged between seven and 79, eight of them had a link to the mink farming industry.

Denmark is one of the biggest global producers of mink furs. There are around 1,500 mink farms there and they produce around 16 million furs every year. A nationwide cull of the animals is under way.

The WHO said that the new variant, referred to as the "Cluster-5" variant, had a combination of mutations, or changes that have not been previously observed. 

In Ireland, there have been no cases in the industry, there are just three mink farms here with around 100,000 furs produced on an annual basis.

Ryanair has cancelled all flights between Denmark and the UK after Britain ordered that its flight crews on those routes must quarantine for 14 days due to widespread coronavirus outbreaks at Danish mink farms.

The airline described the quarantine measures as a "baseless" decision, arguing that UK crew members never leave the aircraft during the 25-minute turnaround at Copenhagen Airport.

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Meanwhile, President of the Epidemiology and Public Health section of the Royal Society of Medicine has said there is real concern that if a new strain of Covid-19 discovered in mink in Denmark becomes dominant then a lot of the work done to date with vaccines will be "for nothing" and their effectiveness will be reduced.

Dr Gabriel Scally said he personally believes that travel to and from Denmark should be restricted until the outbreak is completely under control.