Health Minister Robin Swann has announced that in response to the emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, from today all close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases should self-isolate and get a PCR test even if they are fully vaccinated.
This will help to keep case numbers as low as possible while the accelerated vaccine booster programme is delivered.
The Minister said: “Up until now, the Public Health Agency (PHA) has been managing suspected Omicron cases on an individual basis and asking all of their close contacts to isolate for 10 full days. This was the right approach to help slow spread when the variant first arrived and there were very few cases.
“However, the number of Omicron cases continues to rise rapidly and it is clear that community transmission is now established. The clear public health advice is that we must act now. The urgent priority is to rapidly isolate all close contacts, including from today those who are fully vaccinated, asking that all contacts get PCR tested in order to identify cases as quickly as possible.
“It continues to be the case that close contacts who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated should isolate for ten full days after the last date of contact.”
Professor Sir Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer, said: “In keeping with other parts of the UK, growth of the Omicron variant in Northern Ireland is extremely fast. Consequently, a more stringent approach to the management of close contacts of all COVID-19 cases is now required to help minimise spread.
“It is inevitable, in spite of the containment measures that have been introduced since the variant first emerged, that case numbers in Northern Ireland will continue to grow rapidly. We must do everything we possibly can to slow the spread of the virus to protect the public and to protect our health and social care system from becoming overwhelmed as it faces these very challenging winter months.
“It is vital that we are afforded the maximum time to get booster jabs to as many people as possible as quickly as we can. Vaccination remains the single most important thing we can do to protect ourselves from serious illness and reduce the chances passing the virus on to those around you. The booster programme is being accelerated significantly and it’s also very important that people who are not yet vaccinated come forward for their first dose without delay.”
Health Minister Robin Swann added: “I am very encouraged to see the numbers of people coming forward for first and second doses and booster jabs in recent days and weeks, but it must be emphasised that we cannot rely solely on the booster programme to combat Omicron. We all have a vital role to play in not spreading the virus and these changes announced today, whilst difficult, are required urgently. We need to keep making safer choices in our daily lives and to regularly use lateral flow tests to help protect each other.”