The first Omicron COVID-19 variant cases have been confirmed in Northern Ireland.
Three Omicron cases have been confirmed in total – two in the same household in the greater Belfast area and a third unconnected case in the South Eastern Trust area.
All three positive cases have linkages to travel from GB to NI.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said: “This is a development we have been expecting and preparing for since we were first made aware of the Omicron variant.
“Targeted actions by the Public Health Agency – including testing and enhanced contact tracing – are ongoing to investigate and assess these cases. There is no evidence at this time of wider community transmission in Northern Ireland.
“This is not a time for panic, but for sustained caution. We are awaiting further data on this new variant and the extent of the public health threat it represents.
“It is undoubtedly a cause for concern and has the potential to spread rapidly, adding significantly to the already severe pressures on health and social care services.
“We will continue to liaise closely with public health colleagues across these islands.
“Given the evidence of community transmission of Omicron elsewhere in the Common Travel Area, we would once again advise people to take a Lateral Flow COVID-19 test before travelling to Northern Ireland from England, Scotland, Wales or the Republic of Ireland.”
The Chief Medical Officer also emphasised: “It is more important than ever that we continue to follow the simple steps that will help stop the spread of all variants of COVID-19.
“The more we prevent and break chains of infection, the more breathing space we can give to our health service and to the ongoing roll-out of our vaccine booster programme.
“So please follow public health advice. This includes – getting vaccinated and getting your booster dose when eligible, cutting down on your contacts, social distancing, only meeting up outdoors or in locations with good ventilation, wearing a face covering and washing hands well and often. Please work from home if at all possible and take regular Lateral Flow tests to cut down the risk of infecting others.
“If you have COVID-19 symptoms, self-isolate and book a PCR test without delay.
“We have to remain vigilant – that is how we can look after each other.”
It is expected that by the end of January, COVID-19 vaccine booster doses will have been made available to everyone aged 18 plus in NI.