The Department of Health can confirm a positive test for the new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Northern Ireland.
The confirmation underlines the need for everyone to “redouble our efforts to stop the virus spreading,” Health Minister Robin Swann has emphasised.
Genome analysis had been conducted on a small number of suspected Northern Ireland cases, producing one positive result.
The variant is likely to have been present in Northern Ireland for a period of time.
This new variant had been detected in increasing numbers in the south east of England. It is increasingly likely that it is also established across other regions of the UK and in the Republic of Ireland.
There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes more serious illness or a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments. Urgent work is underway to confirm this.
Health Minister Robin Swann commented: “This is sadly the confirmation we had been expecting.
“As I have stated from the outset of this pandemic, we have to avoid both panic and complacency.
“We all have to redouble our efforts to stop the virus spreading. We know how to do this – cut down our contacts with others, ensure strict social distancing, wash our hands regularly and thoroughly, and wear a face covering.
“It is essential that the maximum benefit is secured from the lockdown that starts on Boxing Day. That’s how we keep ourselves safe, protect the vulnerable in our society and protect our health service.
“This lockdown will only work if we all fully play our part – strictly follow the Covid regulations and public health advice and be ultra-careful in everything we do.
“I would urge everyone to review their plans for Christmas and to err on the side of caution. Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you have to.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “While virus mutation is not uncommon, the potential of this new strain to spread rapidly is cause for serious concern.
“I would advise the public to act on the assumption that it is already well established in Northern Ireland and that the person they pass in the street or stand next to in a queue may have it.
“We protect ourselves and others from this new strain through taking the same vital steps and using the same methods we have been using since the start of the pandemic.
“If you have symptoms, self-isolate and get a test. Testing will be available throughout the Christmas period.”