Seven confirmed cases of the Indian variant of Covid-19 have been detected in Northern Ireland.
They are the first confirmed cases of the variant in the region.
Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said a detailed health protection risk assessment would be carried out along with contact tracing.
“This news is not entirely unexpected and plans are in place for such an eventuality,” he said.
“While preventative measures – including travel restrictions – are very important, the assessment is that these will delay rather than permanently prevent the spread of variants already detected elsewhere on these islands.”
The Department of Health has been notified by the Public Health Agency of seven confirmed cases of the VUI B.1.617.2 (India) Coronavirus variant in Northern Ireland.— Department of Health (@healthdpt) May 6, 2021
Dr McBride added: “Confirmation of these cases does not mean this variant is going to become the most prevalent or the dominant strain in Northern Ireland.
“It does, however, highlight why caution is still essential in relation to Covid-19.
“The most effective way to stop variants developing or spreading is to keep pushing down infection rates and transmission of the virus in our community.
“All variants spread in the same way. We protect ourselves and others by following public health advice and getting vaccinated when our turn comes.”
Dr Stephen Bergin, director of public health at the Public Health Agency, said identification of the Indian variant in the region was “inevitable at some point”.
He said the cases had been identified at a number of locations but said no further details could be given due to patient confidentiality issues.
Whilst it is a disappointing development, it underpins the need for continued vigilance and adherence to the public health guidanceDr Stephen Bergin, Public Health Agency
“Whilst it is a disappointing development, it underpins the need for continued vigilance and adherence to the public health guidance – currently there are no additional measures that the public need to take on the back of this, but it is essential that people continue to work within the regulations and advice,” he said.
“We ask that the public remain vigilant, keep their interactions with others down, continue following the health advice to limit the spread of Covid-19, and engage with the Contact Tracing Service if identified as a confirmed case or a close contact and follow the advice given.”
There were no further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland announced on Thursday.
The Department of Health said there had been an additional 102 cases of the virus confirmed in the previous 24-hour reporting period.
On Thursday morning, there were 67 Covid-19 positive inpatients in hospital, of whom seven were in intensive care.