Plans under way to detect any spread of Omicron in North – Swann

Minister to update Assembly on measures being deployed in response to new variant

The Omicron Covid variant has been identified in England and a host of other countries across Europe, however no cases have yet been notified in Northern Ireland or the Republic. Photograph: iStock

The Omicron Covid variant has been identified in England and a host of other countries across Europe, however no cases have yet been notified in Northern Ireland or the Republic. Photograph: iStock

 

Plans have been activated to identify any spread of the Omicron variant in Northern Ireland, Stormont’s Health Minister has said.

Robin Swann also urged the public to follow basic steps to help prevent the spread of all variants of Covid-19, and underlined the continuing importance of vaccination.

The minister will update the Assembly on Monday on the measures being deployed in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

The variant has been identified in England and a host of other countries across Europe, however no cases have yet been notified in Northern Ireland or the Republic.

Mr Swann said measures against Omicron include the addition of a number of countries to Northern Ireland’s red list for international travel.

“The emerging picture on the Omicron variant is being very closely monitored and we will continue to liaise with public health colleagues in the other UK jurisdictions and the Irish Republic,” he said.

“Plans have been activated to identify any spread of the new variant in Northern Ireland.

“Using passenger locator data, the Public Health Agency is identifying and contacting individuals who have recently arrived in NI from red list countries.

“They and their household members will be asked to self-isolate and undertake PCR tests. If any positive cases are detected, the sample will then undergo whole genome sequencing to determine the variant type.

“If the new variant is confirmed here, all appropriate health protection actions will be carried out and the public will be informed as appropriate.”

Mr Swann has urged people to continue taking all the basic steps, including getting vaccinated and having the booster dose when eligible, wearing a face covering, limiting contacts, keeping rooms well ventilated or meeting outdoors when possible, working from home if possible, and practising good hand hygiene.

“There are concerns that the Omicron variant may reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines,” he said.

“That is not confirmed and it is important to emphasise that.

“Furthermore, even if this does turn out to be the case, it remains vital that as many people as possible get their first and second doses and their booster vaccines when eligible.

“I have been assured that our vaccines should still provide a level of protection against Omicron.

“The importance of that cannot be overestimated. Secondly, we know that our vaccines are very effective against the Delta variant. Delta very much remains the predominant variant in NI at the current time, is a very real and present risk to our population, and is continuing to cause serious illness and, in some tragic cases, death to our fellow citizens.”

On Sunday, the deaths of a further two patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19, and 1,405 cases of the virus, were reported in Northern Ireland. – PA