The Executive met today to consider the developing situation regarding the COVID-19 Omicron variant, and its potential impact.
There are currently 151 cases of Omicron confirmed here, and evidence from other jurisdictions tell us that this is likely to increase rapidly in the coming days.
There is no doubt that Omicron has the potential to be very serious. And, based on the evidence and data available, we can say with absolute confidence that everyone getting their COVID-19 booster is the best possible chance we have of minimising the impacts of this new variant.
The head of our vaccination programme, Patricia Donnelly, updated us today on the roll out of the COVID-19 booster programme. Currently, anyone aged 30 and over who has had both doses of their COVID-19 vaccination for at least three months can receive the booster. From Monday, this will be extended to all adults who have been fully vaccinated for at least three months.
We want to thank the public for their tremendous response to the call to get their booster and would encourage everyone who is eligible to come forward now to keep themselves and their loved ones as safe as possible from the threat posed by Omicron.
Once again our health care staff are performing heroics. We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude for the way in which they have selflessly stepped up and responded to the call to get jabs into arms as quickly as possible.
So to all our vaccination teams, our GPs, pharmacists, to all our health care workers, thank-you.
This huge societal effort is a testament to what can be achieved when we all pull together.
As an Executive, we are concerned to hear of the increased level of threats and violence against HSC staff. All workers have the right to feel safe in their workplace. We are united in our condemnation of those threats and our front line staff have our full support.
Engagement has stepped up between Ministers and officials across these islands. None of us yet know the full extent of this variant, but our public health experts are working intensively to analyse the evidence and will continue to keep us updated as the necessary data becomes available.
Scenario planning is underway to develop a package of potential measures we could deploy to slow the spread of the virus and when would be the most effective time to deploy them. Those decisions will be underpinned by scientific and medical advice and the Executive will meet again next week to review the data and consider next steps.
The vaccine and the booster offers us a significant level of protection against the new variant.
But there are other steps we can all take in our own lives which will protect ourselves, our loved ones and the community.
We all have a personal responsibility to follow the public health advice and make safer choices.
One of the best ways to keep family and friends safe over the Christmas period is to use Rapid Lateral Flow tests before meeting up.
If you are travelling over Christmas to see family and friends, you should take a lateral Flow Test before starting your journey.
And we urge anyone returning home or visiting here for Christmas to take the test before you come home and only travel if the test is negative. You should also take a lateral flow test on days two and eight of your stay.
Free tests are available online or in local pharmacies.
We urge everyone to remain vigilant to continue to keep following these simple steps:
- Get your first and second vaccine doses, and get your booster;
- Work from home if possible;
- Limit your social contacts;
- Meet outdoors when possible;
- If meeting indoors, make sure rooms are well-ventilated;
- Wear a face covering in crowded or indoor settings;
- Practise good hand and respiratory hygiene.
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