The Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging members of the public who test positive for COVID-19 over the festive period to work with its Contact Tracing Service (CTS) to help prevent further spread of the virus, particularly given the increasing prevalence of the Omicron variant.
Dr Elizabeth Mitchell, Director of CTS at the PHA, said: “We know that the last thing people want to think about at this time of year is COVID-19, but unfortunately coronavirus doesn’t take a Christmas break. The Contact Tracing Service won’t be taking a break either though, and we will be here to work with people to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“As a result of the recent sharp rise in daily positive COVID-19 cases throughout Northern Ireland, the Public Health Agency has continued to adjust its operations to help manage the significantly increased demands upon CTS.
“The unprecedented sharp rise in cases recently and the spread of Omicron does mean that the service is understandably under pressure though, so we are asking people to work with us to help us continue to deliver a service which helps reduce spread and keep people safe.
“As soon as you receive a positive result, let your contacts know straightaway – this means that they can immediately take the appropriate steps to help reduce further infections.
“When you receive a text with a code for Digital Self Trace, click on the link and complete it. This will notify your contacts quickly with an official alert.
“Add our CTS number to your phone – (028) 9536 8888 – and keep it nearby so when you receive a call, you’ll know who it’s from and can answer it first time. Fewer missed calls mean our tracers can reach more cases more quickly and get information on contacts without delay.
“If you are told by someone that you are a contact, or you a receive notification from CTS, follow the steps appropriate for you.”
The Contact Tracing Service model remains under constant review to provide the flexibility required to meet demand.
Dr Mitchell added: “I would like to thank everyone who has engaged with our Contact Tracing Service over the past year, provided details of their contacts and complied with the guidance. All aspects of the battle against coronavirus rely on the support and involvement of the public, and this continues to be the case as we tackle the new Omicron variant.
“I would also like to thank all staff involved in delivering contact tracing and responding to the wider challenges presented by COVID-19. Staff in the PHA and the wider health service have yet again worked with exceptional professionalism and dedication over the past year, so I would urge people to assist them and together we can do our best to keep people safe.
“We should all continue to stick to the key steps to help avoid getting COVID-19 in the first place. The vaccine booster can significantly increase protection against Omicron, and local health services are undertaking a huge upscaling of the booster programme to support this. If you are eligible to receive the booster, please get it. If you haven’t yet had your first or second jab, please don’t delay in getting them as advised.
“We are also urging people to remember the basic steps to help reduce their risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 – take a free rapid Lateral Flow Device (LFD) test before attending any social gathering, wear a face covering, practise good hand hygiene, limit your contacts, and keep rooms well-ventilated or meet outdoors when possible. If you have any of the symptoms of COVID-19, isolate immediately, book a PCR test and continue to isolate while waiting on the result. These steps will help prevent spread of all variants of coronavirus, including Omicron.