Northern Ireland news

Close contacts of confirmed Covid cases to be asked to take test

Robin Swann said close contacts of confirmed cases of Covid-19 will be asked to take a PCR test. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

CLOSE contacts of confirmed Covid cases will be asked to take a test within 48 hours of being identified – whether or not they have symptoms – health minister Robin Swann has said.

The announcement came as it emerged that there have been two further deaths in the north of patients who had previously tested positive for coronavirus.

Another 159 cases of the virus were also notified by the Department of Health, while yesterday morning there were 76 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom eight were in intensive care.

Previously only people with symptoms had to take a PCR test but the new measures targeting close contacts are aimed at identifying those who do not have symptoms but could potentially be carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes coronavirus disease.

The testing of asymptomatic contacts will provide further opportunities to identify more cases who would otherwise be unknown to the Contact Tracing Service.

Mr Swann said testing of close contacts was the next step in the development of testing initiatives.

"Expanding and targeting PCR testing is a significant move in our fight against Covid-19, it will assist us as we move carefully out of restrictions and in keeping Northern Ireland open and moving," he said.

The health minister said one-in-three people with Covid may not be displaying symptoms and but could spread the virus without knowing it.

"By recommending PCR testing to all close contacts we will track how the virus is spreading and this will help to further break chains of infection," Mr Swann said.

"Testing of close contact combined with enhanced contact tracing allows us to identify potential sources of infection and new cases earlier and will help keep us one step ahead in interrupting transmission"

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said it was necessary to "use all the tools at hand" to combat Covid.

"Our vaccination programme continues to progress and this new initiative to test close contacts offers an extra layer of protection as we move forward in this pandemic," he said.

Meanwhile, there have been a further eight deaths with coronavirus in the Republic and an additional 309 infections.

There were 184 patients in hospitals yesterday, of whom 51 were in intensive care.

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