Covid-19: Delta variant accounting for around 25% of North’s cases

Public health chief says prevalence of strain likely ‘to match what we’re seeing across the water in England’

More than 76 per cent of the adult population in Northern Ireland has received a first Covid-19 vaccine, with  51 per cent having  had both. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images.

More than 76 per cent of the adult population in Northern Ireland has received a first Covid-19 vaccine, with 51 per cent having had both. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images.

 

The Covid-19 Delta variant now accounts for some 20 to 25 per cent of new cases in Northern Ireland, the interim director of the North’s Public Health Agency (PHA) has said.

Dr Stephen Bergin told The Irish Times on Monday that while the overall numbers in Northern Ireland were low, around a quarter of all the cases being seen were of the variant, which originated in India.

The latest figures issued by the North’s Department of Health on Monday stated that 87 cases of Covid-19 were identified in the most recent 24-hour period. The average case rate per 100,000 people over the last seven days currently stands at 36.9 in the North.

Data on the Delta variant is released each Thursday, with the number of cases identified by last week standing at 111, though this is expected to rise when this week’s figures are published. The cases were identified in all of the North’s 11 council areas.

Enhanced testing work by the PHA in Kilkeel, Co Down - which began when an increased number of Delta variant cases were identified locally - has now concluded. The additional Covid-19 cases identified in Kilkeel by the enhanced testing included 28 “probable or confirmed” cases of the Delta variant.

Reasonable expectation

Dr Bergin said the variant was first identified in Northern Ireland in early May, and there was a “reasonable expectation” that its prevalence would continue to increase “to match what we’re seeing across the water in England.”

Initial cases were identified in the east of Northern Ireland and were linked to travel within the Common Travel Area, but the Delta variant was now circulating within the community.

The aim, he said, was to “prevent that happening or slow it up as much as possible” by encouraging as many people as possible to get vaccinated and to make sure those who have received their first dose come forward for their second.

More than 76 per cent of the adult population in Northern Ireland has received a first Covid-19 vaccine, with 51 per cent having had both.

“We’re in a bit of a race to push that up and up and up,” he said.

He said the coming weeks would be “pretty important in terms of maintaining the public health measures, particularly so as we get through to the latter part of the vaccination programme.

“We cannot let off on those same messages, the soundbite of hands, face and space - good hygiene, wear a mask and social distancing where appropriate, and good ventilation.”

Taking off

The “vital part”, he said, was “get vaccinated. If you’ve been doubting the need to be vaccinated, particularly young people, look at what’s happened in England, so we don’t want that taking off here to the same extent.

“People that have been vaccinated with two doses are doing much, much better than those who haven’t been, so this drives home the message, the vaccines work and they protect you from getting infected in the first place … and if you’re unfortunately one of the few per cent that might still get infected, but it’s not 100 per cent, the outcomes are much better in people that have been vaccinated.”

The North’s Minister for Health, Robin Swann, warned at the weekend that in the event of the Delta variant becoming dominant in Northern Ireland, modeling indicated the potential for a surge of positive cases and hospitalisations by later summer or early autumn.