A bank of biological data which will help with research into Covid-19 and other viruses is coming into operation.

The National Irish Covid Biobank (NICB) is the first Government funded project of its kind.

The NICB is aiming to collect 8,000 samples and patient information from people who have contracted Covid-19.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the biobank, which the Government is investing €2m in initially, is essential for dealing with Long Covid which he said we still do not know much about.

He said once the ethical framework around the biobank is established it will allow them to track and deal with other diseases.

Mr Donnelly described it as "the start of something really quite important for patient care".

Professor Colm Bergin of Trinity College Dublin said the data it collects and stores will be important in learning more about Covid-19 and Long Covid and to help research with future pandemics.

Professor Paddy Mallon of UCD said the project will see researchers from six universities and 13 clinical sites work together in the area of Long Covid but the infrastructure will allow them to move rapidly into future health threats should they arise.

He said it will also help anticipate new threats.

Tanja Buwlada from Long Covid Advocacy Ireland welcomed the launch of the biobank saying it would help with more accurate patient diagnosis in the future.

But she said biobanking is associated with ethical ambiguities and has legal and social implications such as informed consent, confidentiality, trust, and potential commercialisation.

She said these present significant challenges for research ethics committees and that they will need to engage with the public to deal with what she described as the more controversial aspects.

CEO Cancer Trails Ireland Eibhlín Mulroe said without biobanking a lot of the cancer treatments we have right now would not exist.

She said the data held in these banks will "hold the secrets to what's happened with a disease".