Northern Ireland news

School formal linked to Covid outbreak in teenagers

Pupils at Campbell College and Strathearn School attended the end-of-year events at the Culloden Hotel in Holywood last week.
Seanín Graham

A CORONAVIRUS outbreak among teenagers has been linked to two school formals in a hotel as well as at 'pre and after' parties, The Irish News has learned.

Pupils at Campbell College, an all-boys day/boarding school in Belfast, and Strathearn School, a girls' grammar also in the east of the city, attended the end-of-year events at the Culloden Hotel in Holywood last week.

While the Public Health Agency (PHA) would not disclose the setting for the latest cluster, a senior official has confirmed they are dealing with at least 20 to 30 positive cases linked to events attended by between 150 to 200 young people.

Dr Gerry Waldron, head of PHA health protection, also told The Irish News there was "no doubt" the case numbers would rise in coming days.

He said it is highly likely the positive cases will be the more infectious Delta variant and that an alert was yesterday issued to GPs.

In a statement to The Irish News, Campbell College headmaster, Robert Robinson, confirmed the PHA had "recently contacted the College, along with other schools, to indicate that there had been positive cases following social events that involved pupils from a number of south Belfast, east Belfast and north Down schools".

"Whilst these were not official school events, I believe that all schools contacted have been working closely with the PHA in the interests of public safety to ensure those involved were aware of the situation and instructed to follow the guidelines."

Strathearn College was contacted for comment.

The Culloden Hotel did not comment directly on the claims.

But Lisa Steele, General Manager of the Culloden Estate and Spa, said: "As with all events held at the Culloden Estate, and across the Hastings Hotels group, we are completely compliant with the current government guidelines which are strictly followed at all times. We have rigorous operating procedures in place and our staff are fully trained to reflect this."

The PHA said yesterday there was a "sharp increase" in cases emanating from "a number of social events in north Down and east Belfast attended by young people last week".

They warned that more were likely to follow in south Belfast, Hillsborough, Comber, Bangor and the Ards Peninsula through previous and new social links.

Dr Waldron said: "When these things happen, it gets very complex. While there may be a couple of events there are associated events like pre-parties, post parties, people going to each-others houses, taking buses and taxis and watching the sun going up and down.

"At the weekend, we had a small number of cases linked. Eventually when we decide there is an outbreak - and this is an outbreak - if there are facilities involved such as bars and hotels, we involve the council at an early stage.

"There would have been 150 and 200 individuals at these events. We're looking in the region of 20 to 30 cases at the moment but that's going to increase.

"What we're talking about here is the Delta variant which is the dominant variant in Northern Ireland and is extremely transmissible.

"We're also talking about the age group, Even if they're over the age of 18, they're only likely to have one vaccine. But if they're under 18, they won't be vaccinated. So you're talking about an unvaccinated group and a highly transmissible variant - it's a recipe for this kind of thing to happen."

Dr Waldron urged people to stick to public health advice, particularly with regards to social gatherings, and to self-isolate if they test positive or are deemed a close contact.

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