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Minister Underlines Importance of Vaccine After Discovery of New Variant

Please keep following the basic steps that help prevent variants of COVID-19 spreading.

That’s the appeal to the public from Health Minister Robin Swann, as public health measures are activated in response to the Omicron variant’s emergence.

Mr Swann also underlined the continuing importance of vaccination in the battle against all strains of the virus.

“Subject to the Speaker’s approval, I intend to update the Assembly on Monday in regard to the measures being deployed in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant,” the Minister said.

“These 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.”

The Minister urged everyone to adhere to the basic steps that will help stop the spread of all variants of COVID-19. These include: getting vaccinated and getting your 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.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 – a high temperature; OR a new, continuous cough; OR a loss of or change in sense of smell, or taste, no matter how mild – please isolate and get a PCR test as soon as possible.

The Health Minister continued: “There are concerns that the Omicron variant may reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines. 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.”

Mr Swann continued: “Plans have been activated to identify any spread of the new variant in NI.

“Using passenger locator data, the Public Health Agency is identifying and contacting individuals who have recently arrived in Northern Ireland 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 (WGS) 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.”

ENDS

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