Seven cases of the Indian variant of Covid-19 have been identified in the North, the Northern Ireland Department of Health confirmed on Thursday. These are the first confirmed cases there.
Incident-management protocols have been activated and a “detailed health protection risk assessment” and contact tracing would be part of the public health response, according to the department.
Chief medical officer Michael McBride said the development was “not entirely unexpected”. And he added that plans were in place for such an eventuality.But he said confirmation did not mean it would become the most prevalent or dominant strain in Northern Ireland.
He said the variant highlighted why caution remains “essential” regarding the virus. Moreover, the most effective way to stop variants developing or spreading is to keep pushing down infection rates and transmission within the community, he added.
“All variants spread in the same way,” he said. “We protect ourselves and others by following public health advice and getting vaccinated when our turn comes.”
Stephen Bergin, director of public health at the Public Health Agency, said the cases had been identified at several locations across the North but it would not be appropriate to identify these given the small numbers involved.
It is unclear if the cases are related to travel, but Dr Bergin said the contact tracing service had been working with the individuals who had tested positive to identify and engage their close contacts and to confirm their travel history.
Death toll at 2,146
The North reported no virus deaths on Thursday, leaving total fatalities at 2,146. A further 102 people tested positive. A total of 67 patients are being treated in hospital for coronavirus, with seven in intensive care.
Meanwhile, the head of the Covid-19 vaccination programme has told the Stormont health committee that she expects vaccination of the adult population in Northern Ireland to be complete by the end of August.
Patricia Donnelly said the decision to offer the under-30 age cohort a vaccine other than AstraZeneca was set to slow the rollout, which she said has, up to this point, been significantly ahead of the original schedule.
Ms Donnelly said a revised timeline of delivering all first doses to the adult population by the end of June had now been pushed back to, potentially, the end of July.
She also said she hoped the rollout of booster shots could be combined with the annual flu vaccine programme in the autumn. This, she said, would reduce the burden on the health system. Ms Donnelly told the committee that about 1.415 million doses have been administered in Northern Ireland so far.
Of those, some 956,500 are first doses and almost 460,000 are second shots, with 65 per cent of the adult population so far receiving a jab.
Additional reporting – PA