Covid infections in the UK have jumped by more than half a million in a week, as the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants continue to spread.
A total of 2.3 million people across the UK are estimated to have had the virus last week, up 32 per cent from a week earlier, new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.
Which areas of Northern Ireland have the highest infection rates?
According to the ONS, The incidence rate in the Western Health and Social Care Trust region is higher than the other four Trust areas in Northern Ireland where the rate is one in 30. The latest figures relate to the week ending June 25.
Who can access lateral flow testing and what has changed?
Changes to testing in Northern Ireland were announced in April 2022 with a further review to take place by the end of June, in line with the Test, Trace, Protect transition plan.
Under current arrangements, lateral flow tests are available to members of the public with Covid-19 symptoms, including importantly those who may be eligible for Covid-19 treatments. Tests are also available to a small number of groups without symptoms including health and social care staff, those visiting others in health and care settings, and those providing close personal care to someone at higher risk should they contract Covid-19. This availability has been extended for a further month.
Is there new advice for self-isolation?
From today (July 1) the self-isolation period after a positive Covid-19 test has been reduced to five days, and advice has been updated for those with general symptoms of a respiratory virus including Covid.
Adults who test positive for Covid-19 are advised to stay home and avoid contact with other people for five days after the day of test or from the day symptoms started. As children tend to be less infectious than adults, this period is reduced to three days for children under 18 years of age.
Whilst the self-isolation period has been reduced, people are advised to avoid contact with individuals who are at higher risk from Covid-19 for the full 10 days. They should also avoid visiting others in care homes, hospitals and other health and social care settings. Testing to end isolation is no longer advised.
What does the Health Minister say about the rise in cases and new advice?
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I have always said I would keep Covid-19 measures under review. It is clear that after a period of reducing case numbers we are now seeing a rise in cases.
“Whilst prevalence continues to be relatively high, thankfully the overall risk of serious illness, hospitalisation and death for those who contract Covid-19 is much lower than during previous waves.
“That said, we continue to see severe pressures in our hospitals and the contribution of Covid-19, even though admission numbers are smaller than in previous waves, adds to these pressures.
“After careful consideration I have decided to extend the availability of lateral flow testing for those with symptoms until the end of July.
“This updated advice seeks to strike the right balance at this stage of the pandemic between reducing transmission, protecting the vulnerable and mitigating the disruption caused by longer periods of isolation.
“As we move forward together, and continue learning to live life Covid aware, I would urge people to use personal judgment, to act responsibly and to take sensible actions to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and other respiratory infections. This in turn will help to protect those who are most vulnerable.”
What is the advice for those who have a respiratory infection?
The Department of Health says that symptoms of Covid-19 have changed significantly since the start of the pandemic and the symptoms are now very often similar to other respiratory viruses. The same public health advice is therefore appropriate in relation to all respiratory illness symptoms.
If you have a high temperature or do not feel well enough to go to work or carry out your normal activities, stay home and minimise your contact with others until you feel well. You should particularly avoid contact with those considered vulnerable and you should not visit others in health and social care settings if you are feeling unwell or continue to have symptoms.
This is the advice for all people with symptoms of respiratory infections, not just Covid-19. Those who test positive for Covid-19 should stay at home in line with the updated isolation guidance announced today.