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Normality ‘some way off’ health officials warn with 111 cases of Delta variant detected amid fears of surge

Indicative date June 21 penned for return of live music

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Michelle O'Neill

Michelle O'Neill

Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster

PA

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Michelle O'Neill

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland has warned normality “as we knew it in 2019” is still “some way off”, as they suggest a fresh surge of cases and hospitalisation is possible as a result of the Delta variant.

In the latest review from the department, they also confirm there is no date to end the use of face coverings.

On Thursday the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland said 111 probable and confirmed cases of the variant have been detected throughout all 11 local council areas in Northern Ireland. This is up from 26 cases reported last Friday.

Following a meeting of the Executive, the deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill also confirmed the agreement on June 21 as an indicative date for the return of live music.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

In the third review by the department around restrictions, they suggest the Delta variant, originating from India, has the potential to be “40-60% more transmissible than Alpha variant, and to be associated with a 2.4 times increased risk of hospital admission”.

"While the number of confirmed cases of the Delta variant remain small, the evidence from Great Britain indicates that this could change very rapidly. Testing in the last few days has indicated that up to 25% of new cases here may be Delta variant,” they added.

The Public Health Agency confirmed more than 2,100 residents have been tested in the Kilkeel area as part of surge testing to detect an increase in the variant.

“The situation in the area is stable and no additional public health interventions are required at present. This will be kept under review,” they added.

"Given the spread of the Delta variant across the UK, we are seeing a general increase in the number of cases in Northern Ireland. As of yesterday [Wednesday 9 June 2021] our surveillance systems are indicating that based on Reflex Assays, 111 probable and confirmed cases of the Delta variant have been detected throughout all 11 local council areas in Northern Ireland.”

The latest warning from the department comes as 109 new positive cases and no further deaths were announced in the latest Covid-19 statistics.

The Department of Health also confirmed the gap between first and second doses of the Covid-19 vaccine in Northern Ireland is to be reduced to a maximum of eight weeks to help combat the rise of the Delta variant.

In the latest paper issued by the department, they warned that a rise in the Delta variant could lead to a surge in cases later in the year.

"In the event of the Delta variant becoming dominant, modelling indicates the potential for a significant fresh surge of positive cases and hospitalisations by late summer/early autumn,” they added.

"It needs to be emphasised that this is by no means inevitable. Modelling is not a prediction and there are many uncertainties in every potential scenario. It is essential that good levels of adherence to public health advice are maintained, alongside take-up of first and second vaccine doses.

"We are not yet at the point where we can set a date for an end to social distancing, the use of face coverings or the other public health measures that have been so important throughout the pandemic. Normality, as we knew it in 2019, is still some way off.”

In a final press briefing between the pair at Lisnaskea, the outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill confirmed the Executive had agreed that live music in Northern Ireland would return on the indicative date of June 21.

Speaking on Thursday afternoon about the potential removal face coverings, Michelle O’Neill said: “Just given the current situation we are not in the space that we are able to remove any of those restrictions. This new variant is worrying so we just need to be very careful and stick with the social distancing and wearing the masks.”

Mrs Foster added: “The hospitality sector will be able to have background music. On June 21 in terms of background music and by the end of July we hope we will be able to have indoors and outdoors music and dancing.”

Addressing specifically plans for the musician Van Morrison to hold a series of performances in the Europa Hotel between Thursday and Sunday, Ms O’Neill said the Executive discussed the gigs before adding it “shouldn’t go ahead”.

An official release by the Executive confirmed that subject to ratification on June 17, from June 21 “live music at background or ambient levels” will be allowed but confirmed dancing will still not be permitted.

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Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster

PA

Arlene Foster

Ten people from two households will also be allowed to gather indoors while private outdoor gatherings in a garden will be allowed with up to 15 people from an unlimited number of households.

Close contact services will also be able to open without having to have an appointment system, but will still be required to continue all other mitigations.

An indicative date of July 22 has been given for the removal of the remaining restrictions on live music in hospitality settings with a potential ratification on July 15.

Mrs Foster added the pace of the changes was dictated by concern over the Delta variant, but added the Executive did not discuss reintroducing further restrictions in light of the variant.

"We are concerned about the Delta variant. We do need to keep a very close eye on that as it develops. We know the Delta variant is more transmissible. We need to make sure we continue to protect our citizens,” added Arlene Foster.


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