Travellers into Northern Ireland will have to take a mandatory PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival, and self-isolate until they receive a negative test result.
It comes on the back of the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in what Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Michael McBride, described as “a serious and concerning development”.
The UK has already introduced the measures with the Department of Health stating it is their intention to align Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK on PCR testing and self-isolation requirements for new arrivals.
Health Minister Robin Swann has this evening (Sunday) appealed to the public to adhere to the basic steps that will help stop the spread of all variants.
“Subject to the Speaker’s approval, I intend to update the Assembly on Monday in regard to the measures being deployed in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant,” the Minister said.
“These include the addition of a number of countries to Northern Ireland’s Red List for international travel.
“The emerging picture on the Omicron variant is being very closely monitored and we will continue to liaise with public health colleagues in the other UK jurisdictions and the Irish Republic.”
The Health Minister continued: “There are concerns that the Omicron variant may reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines. That is not confirmed and it is important to emphasise that.
“Furthermore, even if this does turn out to be the case, it remains vital that as many people as possible get their first and second doses and their booster vaccines when eligible.
“I have been assured that our vaccines should still provide a level of protection against Omicron. The importance of that cannot be overestimated. Secondly, we know that our vaccines are very effective against the Delta variant. Delta very much remains the predominant variant in NI at the current time, is a very real and present risk to our population, and is continuing to cause serious illness and, in some tragic cases, death to our fellow citizens.”
Mr Swann continued: “Plans have been activated to identify any spread of the new variant in NI.
“Using passenger locator data, the Public Health Agency is identifying and contacting individuals who have recently arrived in Northern Ireland from Red List countries.
“They and their household members will be asked to self-isolate and undertake PCR tests. If any positive cases are detected, the sample will then undergo Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) to determine the variant type. If the new variant is confirmed here, all appropriate health protection actions will be carried out and the public will be informed as appropriate.”
Malawi and Mozambique were added to the NI red list from 4pm on Friday, November 26 whilst Angola and Zambia will be included from 4am on 28 November 2021. They join the following countries already placed on the red list: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini.
These actions have been taken in response to the emerging threat from the new omicron variant (B.1.1.529).
Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said: “The emergence of the omicron variant is a serious and concerning development following the extreme pressures that we have already faced during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic to date. Whilst it is highly likely that there will be cases of the variant in NI at some point it is essential that preventative measures are taken to delay and/or reduce its incursion. This is a rapidly developing situation with the potential need for the addition of more countries to the Red List in the coming days.”
Dr McBride concluded: “It is really important that everyone takes sensible precautions – get a PCR test if you have symptoms. self-isolate when asked and wear your face-covering. Remember to ventilate rooms and please get your vaccine and boosters as soon as you can.”
It is the Department of Health’s intention to align Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK on PCR testing and self-isolation requirements for new arrivals.
Further information on international travel can be found on NIDirect at Travel advice and guidance | nidirect