Enhanced Covid testing is to be rolled out in two Northern Ireland towns amid concerns over cases of the Delta variant.
he Public Health Agency has identified an unspecified number of probable cases of the variant, first detected in India, in areas of Ballymoney and Omagh.
Officials are urging anyone without symptoms to get tested in certain targeted neighbourhoods within these areas.
The PHA said it will enable asymptomatic Covid-19 cases to be identified early and reduce the risk of spread in the community, pending confirmation that the variant is present in the towns.
Testing is opening to everyone in the areas over the age of five.
Households in the areas that this testing covers will be contacted directly by PHA by post from tomorrow (Friday).
Dr Brid Farrell from the PHA, said: “Testing in these areas is a precautionary measure to identify asymptomatic cases and help prevent and delay further spread of the virus.
“We encourage all those eligible in the neighbourhoods identified by the agency to present for testing, preferably within 24-72 hours of receiving their letter.
“We are particularly interested in people in the 18 to 40 age group coming forward for testing as we are seeing more cases of the Delta variant in this age group throughout Northern Ireland.
“This is a reminder to everyone that we should take steps now to help reduce the spread of the variant, and must avoid becoming complacent. Everyone over the age of 18 who has not yet booked their vaccine should do so now – if you have had your first dose, make sure you attend for your second one. Two doses of the vaccine appears to have a high degree of effectiveness against the Delta variant, and getting it will not only help protect you, but also more vulnerable members of our community.”
The PHA warning comes amid reports that Covid cases are “rising exponentially” across England driven by younger and mostly unvaccinated age groups, according to scientists tracking the epidemic.
A study commissioned by the Government found that infections have increased 50% between May 3 and June 7, coinciding with the rise of the Delta coronavirus variant.
Data from nearly 110,000 swab tests carried out across England between May 20 and June 7 suggests Covid-19 cases are doubling every 11 days, with the highest prevalence in the North West and 1 in 670 people infected.
The experts from Imperial College London said their findings show a “rapid switch” between the Alpha (Kent) variant, which first appeared in the UK in September 2020, and the Delta variant in the last few weeks, with the latter accounting for up to 90% of all coronavirus cases.
But they stressed that the country is in a much different position than autumn last year when an exponential growth triggered a second wave of coronavirus infections.