Indicative date of June 21st confirmed for live music but Swann says normality is "some way off’

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By PA news

Health Minister Robin Swann has said normality remains “some way off” as he delivered a warning about the spread of the Delta Covid variant in Northern Ireland.

The warning came as the Public Health Agency said it has identified 111 probable or confirmed cases of the Delta variant across Northern Ireland, with 28 cases in the Co Down town of Kilkeel.

Executive ministers met on Thursday to discuss the latest relaxations of Covid restrictions.

Ministers have agreed an indicative date of June 21 for live music to resume, although the decision will have to be confirmed next week in line with health advice.

It is understood that a planned gig at the Europa Hotel by singer Van Morrison, which had been scheduled for Thursday night, will now not go ahead.

The Executive also agreed proposals to raise limits on social contact at home from June 21, which would allow 10 people from two households to meet indoors, again subject to ratification next week.

The number of people allowed to meet outdoors in a private garden will rise to 15 from any number of households on June 21.

During the Executive meeting, ministers were given a briefing paper from Mr Swann in which he said he believed the country was not at a point yet to set a date for an end to social distancing.

The Health Minister said he expected to have data next week on the impact of infection rates following easements introduced in Northern Ireland in recent weeks.

He said: “In addition, the emerging data from Great Britain on the progress of the Delta variant provide grounds for concern.

“We are not yet at the point where we can set a date for an end to social distancing, the use of face coverings or the other public health measures that have been so important throughout the pandemic.

“Normality, as we knew it in 2019, is still some way off.”

The Indian variant, now named the Delta variant, was first confirmed in Northern Ireland in early May.

Last week, a number of Delta cases were confirmed by health officials, with surge testing taking place in Kilkeel following the discovery of a small cluster.

Mr Swann’s paper said: “While the number of confirmed cases of the Delta variant remains small, the evidence from Great Britain indicates that this could change very rapidly.

“Testing in the last few days has indicated that up to 25% of new cases here may be Delta variant.

“Based on emerging data from GB, the current assessment is that Delta variant is likely to be 40-60% more transmissible than Alpha variant.

“In addition, while vaccination remains effective, it is somewhat less effective against Delta variant compared with Alpha variant.

“In the event of the Delta variant becoming dominant, modelling indicates the potential for a significant fresh surge of positive cases and hospitalisations by late summer/early autumn.

“It needs to be emphasised that this is by no means inevitable.

“Modelling is not a prediction and there are many uncertainties in every potential scenario.

“It is essential that good levels of adherence to public health advice are maintained, alongside take-up of first and second vaccine doses.”

Mr Swann said surge testing, when required, would be carried out to respond to confirmed Delta variant cases and to prevent virus spread.

Speaking in Fermanagh, the outgoing First Minister, Arlene Foster, said the Executive was concerned about the spread of the Delta variant.

She said: “Of the new cases that are recorded, about 20% of them are now thought to be Delta variant and therefore we do need to keep a very close eye on that as it develops.

“We know that the Delta variant is more transmissible, up to 40 to about 60% more transmissible, and therefore we need to make sure we continue to protect our citizens.

“But, having said that, we had a good discussion about the relaxation of restrictions, we have set them out, those will happen on June 21.”

 

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