Executive says new strain being monitored but priority is to keep children in schools
The new Omicron variant of Covid-19 is likely to be confirmed in Northern Ireland within days, the Executive Office has said.
In a statement, First and Deputy First Ministers described the emergence of this new strain of the virus as “a serious and concerning development worldwide”.
But they said they were committed to keeping schools open, despite staff absences due to the pandemic.
The warning came as the Department of Health revealed that nine out of 10 adults here have now received at least one Covid-19 vaccination.
The Executive Office said the evidence on the new variant is being very closely monitored and that Northern Ireland’s public health experts ““will continue to liaise with colleagues in other jurisdictions as the situation develops globally and locally.
“No cases of the Omicron variant have yet been confirmed here, but that situation is likely to change in the coming days. The public will be kept informed and health protection measures will be actioned as appropriate,” a spokesperson for Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill said.
“It is still unclear whether the clinical impact of this new coronavirus variant will be more serious so it is essential that we take preventative action now. We must use this time wisely to drive Covid-19 infection rates down.”
They added: “Our priority remains keeping our children and young people in school. We recognise the challenges being faced across all our educational settings and the work that teachers and all staff are doing at this difficult time to support young people.”
It comes as Northern Ireland recorded another two deaths linked to coronavirus and another 2,272 people have tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 booster programme has passed 400,000 jabs.
Health Minister Robin Swann said the number of people who have taken up the offer of a booster vaccine has passed 400,000 and that 90% of people aged over 18 have received at least one jab.
In total, 3,068,005 jabs have been delivered since the vaccination programme began just under a year ago.
Mr Swann also highlighted an upcoming vaccination weekend being carried out by 50 community pharmacies across Northern Ireland, with clinics being set up on Saturday and Sunday. These will involve a blend of walk-in clinics and vaccinations by appointment. This will complement the ongoing booster provision by a network of Health Trust hubs, Trust walk-in clinics, pharmacies and GPs.
Elsewhere, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said Covid-19 is “no joking matter” when asked about Sammy Wilson’s controversial tweet about the Omicron variant.
On Tuesday, Mr Wilson tweeted: “Ding dong merrily on high will be replaced this Christmas by ping-dong miserably we sigh. I will vote against new restrictions in Parliament today. They are not proportionate to deal with the spread of the mild omicron variant.”
The DUP leader addressed the controversy during a visit to the Shankill Road yesterday. However, he would not be drawn on if the East Antrim MP should have posted the comment.