A number of countries on the African continent are to be added to Northern Ireland’s red travel list in response to reports of a new Covid-19 variant.
Six nations will be placed on NI’s international travel red list from November 26 2021, including: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini.
The B.1.1.529 variant of the virus has been identified in South Africa as well as some other countries with travel links to the nation.
The Department of Health said the decision was taken over concerns the variant has a “large number of mutations” which could potentially have implications for transmissibility, severity and vaccine effectiveness.
They said further work is being done to analyse the variant, with the move from the department following similar moves in England, Scotland and Wales.
Recent arrivals from these countries will be contacted by the Public Health Agency and asked to self-isolate and undertake PCR tests which will be prioritised for genomic sequencing.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said: “This is undoubtedly a matter of concern. We are taking the action on international travel on a precautionary basis, while we await further evidence on the spread of this variant in South Africa and understand more about it.
“The need for further measures will be kept under constant review and we will continue to liaise closely with public health colleagues in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
“I would also urge the public to be cautious. All variants of the COVID-19 virus spread in the same way – through contact between people.
“The best way to keep each other safe is to keep following public health advice. That includes wearing a face covering, being careful about our contacts with others, and washing our hands. Fresh air and good ventilation also have a vital role in dispersing COVID-19 particles.
“It is not possible at this stage to accurately assess the potential for this new variant to impact on vaccine effectiveness.
“This should in no way dissuade people from coming forward for their first and second doses and boosters. The Delta variant is currently dominant in Northern Ireland and the threat it poses to our citizens is very real.
“Thankfully, our vaccines provide a good level of protection against Delta and continue to represent our strongest line of defence against the virus.”
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