Health Minister Robin Swann says NI’s first round of “large scale, door to door” community testing in Kilkeel found new cases of coronavirus that may otherwise have been missed.
Thousands of people in the coastal town are expected to be tested as the Public Health Agency moves to get a grip on the growing Delta variant.
Official figures up to June 3 show that 26 cases of the COVID-19 variation, which originated in India, had already been identified in NI.
But as community tests were rolled out across Kilkeel another nine potential cases had been uncovered by Monday with updated figures on any further cases due to be released on Thursday.
Minister Swann told Belfast Live yesterday morning that Kilkeel testing “has indicated another 15 positive cases – some of them may have been asymptomatic so we wouldn’t have picked those up normally”.
Consultant in Public Health Medicine at the PHA, Dr Brid Farrell, has said early indications show that nine of the 15 are the Delta type.
In regard to the variant, Minister Swann continued: “We are still looking as to the seriousness of it.
“We have seen that it is 40% more transmissible so it’s a variant that will transmit easier. As to whether that actually finishes up in hospitalisations we have yet to see.
“We are assured that the double dose of a vaccine is up to 90% effective against the variant so what I’ll always encourage people to do is go out and get, not just their first vaccine, but also their second.
“We in Northern Ireland were the first part of the United Kingdom to move to vaccine accessibility for everybody over 18 so if you are eligible to do that – please go and get your vaccines.”
A study published in The Lancet on June 3 found that the Pfizer vaccine produces lower levels of antibodies against the Delta variant of coronavirus – leading to suggestions a booster may be needed.
However Minister Swann said: “We have Pfizer and AstraZeneca – they are being effective against all the variants that we have detected to date – and that’s coming through in the central guidance that we are getting from the UK agencies as well.”
Delta is just one of a number of different forms of the virus that have made their way to NI.
Up to June 3, government statistics show there was also one case of Kappa which was also first detected in India, two cases of Eta and 17 of a similar type which both started in the UK, nine cases of Beta which originated in South Africa and 6,220 cases of UK variant Alpha.
There have been no cases of Theta which stemmed from the Philippines, UK-originated Gamma nor Zeta, which was first detected in Brazil.
As tests continue in Kilkeel to try and curb the spread of the Delta variant, the Department of Health has revealed that no coronavirus patients are currently being treated in Intensive Care.
It follows a week in which DoH also recorded no further COVID-19 related deaths.
According to its latest update, the death toll from the virus in Northern Ireland remains at 2,154.
Tuesday’s dashboard also revealed that a further 81 cases have been diagnosed, bringing the total number of positive cases to 123,267 since the pandemic began.
In the last seven days, the department said 546 more people have been diagnosed with the virus.
Meanwhile, no new coronavirus cases have been recorded in the last seven days in 13 post code areas.
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