The Executive has today agreed that the current package of COVID-19 measures remains a proportionate response to the Omicron variant at this time.
While the situation remains under continuous review, the Executive has agreed not to introduce additional restrictions following its latest considerations.
The Executive also discussed self-isolation requirements and the proposal by the Health Minister to reduce self-isolation from 10 to 7 days subject to a negative LFD test on day six and a second negative LFD test taken at least 24 hours later on day seven. This change is expected to take place from tomorrow and further details will be announced shortly.
PCR testing and the new guidance for testing was also discussed. There has been a significant increase in testing requirements and the Executive encourage everyone to follow the latest guidance and only book a PCR if necessary. Anyone with symptoms should isolate immediately and book a test in the normal way. The latest advice is available at: www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/public-urged-use-covid-19-testing-only-when-needed.
Omicron became the dominant variant of COVID-19 before Christmas Day and the daily infection rate has increased dramatically in the last week. It now accounts for around 90 per cent of cases here.
While there remains a great deal of uncertainty about Omicron, there is some encouragement from initial research which suggests it may be less severe than the Delta variant in terms of the proportion of infected people requiring hospitalisation. Further data on illness severity will emerge in the next one to two weeks and this will help further inform the modelling and the Executive’s considerations.
However, the high infection rate of Omicron will lead to more hospitalisations and additional pressures on hospitals.
Widespread community transmission will inevitably lead to more staff absences in essential services and so it is important not to drop our guard and that everyone continues to make safer choices to keep themselves and others safe.
In particular, we want people to remain cautious and enjoy the New Year as safely as possible. That means taking a lateral flow test if you intend to meet up with others. Meet outdoors if possible or in well ventilated rooms if meeting indoors and limit the number of people you come into contact with.
There is a sufficient supply of lateral flow tests for Northern Ireland. Community pharmacies and other collection sites are being replenished regularly. You can use the online site finder to find a local collection site. If the site closest to you does not have any tests, you can look for other collection sites in your local area. You can also order a LFD test online for home delivery. Due to high demand, tests may be released in batches throughout the day on the online home delivery service. If you are not able to order tests immediately, please check again regularly throughout the day.
We all have a part to play in slowing the spread of Omicron. Getting vaccinated and taking up the booster is a vital defence against both transmission and serious disease and the rapid uptake of booster doses remains a key Executive priority. Almost 50 per cent of the population aged 12 and over have received a booster or third dose of the vaccine.
We are deeply indebted to all our healthcare teams in the vaccination centres, GP practices and local pharmacies for once again stepping up and delivering the vaccines and booster jabs.
We also acknowledge the sacrifices made by so many families over the holidays, who scaled back on previous plans and reduced the size of their family gatherings to keep themselves and others safe. We ask everyone to continue to limit gatherings to a maximum of three households.
This is no doubt a difficult time for our businesses and we recognise the ongoing impact the current situation is having, particularly on the hospitality and events sectors. We thank everyone who continues to work with us and is doing everything they can to limit the spread of the virus. We will continue to press the Westminster Government for the necessary funding to enable us to provide support through this challenging time.
As the holiday period comes to an end, we remind everyone of the need to work from home where possible. This is a crucial measure in reducing the risk of COVID-19 spreading.
The levels of COVID-19 circulating in the community are at the highest rate they have ever been, and it is vitally important that anyone with symptoms isolates immediately and books a PCR test. Booking slots are made available at stages throughout the day and people are encouraged to retry should they not get a test slot immediately. You should continue to isolate until you have received the results of your test. If the test is positive, you must complete your isolation period.
We are again asking everyone to look after themselves and each other by following these steps:
- Get your first and second vaccines doses, and get your booster;
- Work from home if possible;
- Limit your social contacts;
- Meet outdoors when possible;
- If meeting indoors, make sure the rooms are well ventilated;
- Wear a face covering in crowded indoor spaces;
- Take a lateral flow test before meeting others, and
- Practise good hand and respiratory hygiene.