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MINISTER HAILS CORNERSTONES OF NI’S COVID RESPONSE

Health Minister Robin Swann has highlighted the ongoing work by Northern Ireland’s health and social care system to keep people safe from COVID-19.

A range of developed programmes are in place – including vaccination, widely available COVID testing and contact tracing.

He said: “The successful roll-out of our vaccination programme continues, with over 70% of our adult population having now received their first dose and over 40% fully vaccinated.

“We need to maintain this momentum and I plan to announce the programme extension’s to 18-24 year olds in the very near future.

“Alongside vaccination, contact tracing, testing and self-isolation following a positive test remain the cornerstones of our ongoing public health response.

“I would again appeal to the public to work with us and keep playing their part in preventing the spread of the virus. That’s how we keep each other safe and protect the hard won progress we have achieved.”

  • Self-isolate when you get symptoms and get a PCR test at one of the network of PCR testing facilities across Northern Ireland. Keep self-isolating with your household if the PCR test is positive. Other members of your household and other close contacts should also get a PCR test if you test positive.
  • Co-operate and work with the Contact Tracing service after a positive PCR test result.
  • Be aware of the wide availability and benefits of rapid COVID-19 tests as part of our NI SMART Asymptomatic Testing Programme. These rapid (Lateral Flow) tests produce results in around half an hour and help detect asymptomatic cases – people who have the virus but have no symptoms and may be spreading it unwittingly.
  • Rapid tests are being actively offered to a range of workforces and sectors of the economy.

In addition, members of the public can now access these tests free of charge. These can be ordered online and will be delivered to your home address, or can be collected from number of Northern Ireland locations.

Members of the public and employers in Northern Ireland who wish to avail of testing are strongly encouraged to use the rapid COVID-19 kits on offer free of charge from the Department. These tests have been validated and approved for use by DHSC London. Further details can be found at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/assessment-and-procurement-of-coronavirus-covid-19-tests/outcome-of-the-evaluation-of-rapid-diagnostic-assays-for-specific-sars-cov-2-antigens-lateral-flow-devices

  • If you get a positive rapid COVID-19 test result, self-isolate and immediately arrange for a confirmatory PCR test.

The Minister continued: “Testing, vaccination and contact tracing should be seen as vital lines of defence against COVID-19. Alongside these, we must keep sticking to the public health basics – social distancing, limiting contacts with others, wearing face coverings, and washing our hands regularly.

“Always remember that outdoors is safer than indoors and that ventilation – a good supply of fresh air – can reduce the risk indoors. Keep windows and doors open where possible and avoid cramped, crowded settings.”

  • Targeted vaccinations by mobile teams will become an integral part of the vaccination programme this summer, helping to further boost vaccine take-up. These can be deployed to higher risk locations including those with low take-up rates and higher virus prevalence. This outreach work has started in pilot form, and will be extended to locations across Northern Ireland in the coming weeks and months.
  • Targeted enhanced PCR COVID-19 testing is also being used, for instance to cover wider workplace or community locations should a cluster occur or a variant of concern be detected.

Targeted wastewater COVID-19 testing has also been deployed to inform the investigation and management of identified cases of the B.1.617.2 variant in recent weeks.

Reflex Assay PCR tests are used for rapid screening of known mutations and can act as an early warning system to help facilitate early public health assessment and more rapid interventions to minimise spread of variants of concern. Variants are confirmed through Whole Genome Sequencing. This takes longer than PCR testing to produce a result.

Surge testing – for larger population groups such as a street, village or town – remains an available option if required in future.

  • Contact tracing will continue to play a significant role in the weeks and months ahead.

Contact tracing in Northern Ireland comprises a manual person led approach, along with a number of well-embedded digital supports including the digital self-trace platform, a texting service (for results and tracing details) and the use of the StopCOVID NI App. This combined approach adds significant value to the overall level of service, ensuring it can engage with contacts and cases in an efficient and timely way.

The Northern Ireland Contact Tracing Service introduced the offer of a PCR test to all close contacts of confirmed positive cases (including close contacts who are asymptomatic) in April. Close contacts of confirmed cases of COVID-19 are now asked to take a PCR test within 48 hours of being identified as a close contact.  Previously only people with symptoms were required to take a PCR test. This additional measure is aimed at identifying those close contacts who do not have symptoms but who could potentially be carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Testing of close contacts is not an alternative to self-isolation. Close contacts still need to isolate for the full 10 days even if their tests are reported negative.

  • Enhanced contact tracing continues to improve the information and intelligence available on clusters and outbreaks of COVID-19 through identifying the source of a case’s infection and asking all positive cases what settings they have visited and what contacts they have had over the seven days prior to onset of their infection. Enhanced tracing is in addition to core contact tracing, which focuses on identifying the close contacts of new cases in the period from 48 hours before symptom onset (or 48 hours before the positive test result if asymptomatic).

ENDS

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