With community transmission of COVID-19 at an all-time high, the Executive is urging everyone not to let their guard down, get boosted, test and report.
The Executive received an update today from our medical and scientific advisors on the latest public health situation. As expected, the highly infectious nature of the Omicron variant has led to a dramatic increase in the number of positive cases. The number of cases is expected to remain very high for the next few weeks.
The risk of catching COVID-19 is greater now than it has ever been. So it is critically important that everyone remains vigilant and continues to follow the public health advice.
We are again calling on everyone who is eligible to take up the booster vaccine. The evidence is undeniable – getting the booster will help protect you from becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. When compared to fully vaccinated individuals who have also received their booster or third dose, unvaccinated individuals aged 50 and over are almost 30 times more likely to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19.
We also remind everyone of the importance of following all testing requirements and guidelines.
With the unprecedented surge in Omicron, and subsequent demand for testing, capacity for PCR testing reached its limit this week. The Department of Health is advising the public that in the context of very high COVID levels a positive lateral flow test is an accurate predictor of COVID infection and a confirmatory PCR test is not required at this time. Anyone who receives a positive lateral flow result must self-isolate immediately. The latest advice on self-isolation requirements is available at: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-self-isolating-and-close-contacts
Please test regularly with lateral flow tests, particularly before you come into contact with others. Lateral flow tests are free and can be ordered online or collected from one of 580 collection sites. You can find details of local collection sites here: https://maps.test-and-trace.nhs.uk/
Report all test results, whether positive or negative, into the online system at: https://www.gov.uk/report-covid19-result. If you cannot use the online service, you should call 119 (free from mobiles and landlines) to report your result.
It is especially important that positive lateral flow tests are reported so that Contact Tracing can alert your close contacts and help prevent the virus from spreading further. It will also help our public health experts to monitor the progression of this wave given the recent changes in testing requirements.
The Executive has agreed not to make any changes to the package of measures currently in place to manage this Omicron COVID wave. There are still some uncertainties around the full impact of the Omicron variant and we are keeping the situation under continuous review. Further data on potential hospital pressures will emerge in the next week and will help to inform our considerations.
There are undoubtedly significant workforce pressures across essential services and wider society arising from the extraordinarily high levels of infection throughout the community.
The situation across the workforce is being monitored through the Executive’s civil contingency structures and departments have been asked to proactively monitor workplace absence rates across sectors.
The Head of the Civil Service met this week with the NI Labour Market Engagement Forum where a range of workforce issues were discussed, including concerns around the absence of furlough or support mechanisms for low paid workers who are required to self-isolate. Ministers will continue to make the case to the Westminster Government for this vital support for workers. Engagement with the Forum will continue as a mechanism for sharing information and addressing key issues for the Labour Market, including workforce impacts.
Omicron will continue to be extremely challenging for some weeks and we ask everyone to please get behind the collective effort to navigate this surge, as you have done so many times before.
As well as getting vaccinated, taking up the booster and regular testing – we ask everyone to limit your social contacts and work from home if possible. This will reduce the opportunities for the virus to spread.
Meet outdoors if you can. If meeting indoors, make sure the rooms are well ventilated.
Wear a face covering in public indoor spaces. Not only is this a legal requirement but it keeps others and you safer. The grace period for proving an exemption on medical grounds has been extended to allow further work on logistical issues involved in obtaining proof of exemption, including engagement with relevant groups. However, this is a vital mitigation in preventing virus transmission and we urge everyone who can wear a face covering to do so without delay.
Do not contact your GP for a letter of exemption. GPs are not providing this service and abuse of staff will not be tolerated.