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Northern Ireland vaccinations gather pace as Republic finds new variant

People aged 35 to 39 to be offered Covid jab with more appointments available next week


Cillian De Gascun

Cillian De Gascun

Cillian De Gascun

Northern Ireland's vaccination programme has been expanded to people aged between 35 and 39 as it emerged the Republic of Ireland has registered three cases of a new Covid variant first identified in India.

Cillian De Gascun, the head of the Republic's national virus laboratory, has said at least two of the cases are related to travel.

He said the variant was still classified as a "variant of interest" rather than a "variant of concern".

It came hours after India was added to the red list of countries from which most travel to the UK is banned.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

It follows over concerns about the new variant, which is thought to be behind a sudden surge in cases in India.

From 4am on Friday, most people will be banned from entering the UK if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.

British or Irish passport holders, or people with UK residence rights, will be allowed in but must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.

Northern Ireland has set up a quarantine hotel in preparation for the arrival of the first international flight into the region from Amsterdam this week.

The Executive Office on Monday night said it would not comment on whether the facilities are in use yet.

A spokeswoman said: "Passengers are entitled to privacy at every stage of their journey.

"Significant information has been published on the managed isolation arrangements which are now in place and no further commentary will be provided on users of the service. Arrangements will be kept under review and collated data may be published at a later point."

The Department of Health on Monday opened up limited appointment slots to those aged 35 to 39, mainly at the mass vaccination centre at the SSE Arena, ahead of schedule in the latest sign of the success of the programme.

Appointments in community pharmacies will be made available to the age cohort later this month as vaccine supplies permit.

According to the Department of Health, 1,137,331 doses of vaccine have been administered in Northern Ireland, of which 863,712 were first doses and 273,619 were second doses.

Announcing the latest development on Monday, Health Minister Robin Swann said: "I have always been clear that we would move through the vaccine programme as quickly as vaccine deliveries and capacity allows as recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

"I recently announced that we successfully administered over one million vaccines across Northern Ireland to the highest priority groups.

"This figure is expected to rise exponentially as the trust vaccine centres and GP practices continue to deliver second doses while the vaccine centre at the SSE Arena and the community pharmacists push ahead to deliver first doses.

"Opening up to 35 to 39-year-olds earlier than expected is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all staff who are delivering the vaccination programme in Northern Ireland.

"I encourage those who are eligible to seize this opportunity and take up the offer of vaccination. Getting the vaccine not only protects you but also those close to you.

"I would also strongly encourage anyone aged 40 years or over who hasn't booked themselves a vaccination appointment yet to do so as soon as possible."

In line with recent JCVI advice, those living in the same house with someone who is severely immuno-suppressed will also be able to access the programme shortly, once their household has received a letter from their GP.

The Department of Health has said appointments at this stage are limited and has asked the public for patience when trying to book a slot. Appointments will be more widely available by the end of April, the Department has said.

Northern Ireland on Monday recorded 79 new cases of Covid-19 and no further deaths.

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