Following public health guidance will help prevent a fresh wave of Covid-19 caused by the Delta variant of the virus, Robin Swann has said.
he Public Heath Agency last night revealed that, as of Wednesday, there were 111 probable and confirmed local cases of the strain.
The number of infections has risen 15-fold since the strain was first detected here on May 7.
The Health Minister warned that if the Delta variant became dominant in Northern Ireland, “modelling indicates the potential for a significant fresh surge of positive cases and hospitalisations by late summer/early autumn”.
However, Mr Swann added: “It needs to be stressed that this is by no means inevitable.
“Modelling is not a prediction and there are many uncertainties in every potential scenario.
“It is essential that good levels of adherence to public health advice are maintained, alongside take-up of first and second vaccine doses.”
Mr Swann’s comments were part of a briefing document presented to the Executive ahead of its decision to press ahead with further relaxations later this month and in July.
From June 21, indoor gatherings in a domestic setting with up to 10 people from no more than two households will be allowed.
Outdoor gatherings in a domestic setting of 15 people from an unlimited number of households will also be permitted.
Children under the age of 12 are not included in the total and a final decision on the proposed relaxations will be made next Thursday.
Other relaxations include allowing close-contact services to operate without using an appointment system and, from July 1, the restarting of overnight residentials for youth services.
However, the Executive has made no decision on the removal of social distancing or the use of face coverings.
Mr Swann said: “We are not yet at the point where we can set a date for an end to social distancing, the use of face coverings or the other public health measures that have been so important throughout the pandemic.
“Normality, as knew it in 2019, is still some way off.”
The paper submitted to the Executive by Mr Swann also revealed the Alpha variant, previously known as the Kent variant, remains the dominant strain in Northern Ireland.
However, the Delta strain is now thought to be responsible for 25% of cases.
The Health Minister also said that the number of new cases had “increased slightly over the past week in the context of reduced testing overall”.
He continued: “This may reflect early signs of the impact of relaxations of May 24, along with some increase in Delta variant.
“Cases have mainly increased in the 11 to 30 age bands.
“Hospital admissions, in-patient numbers, ICU occupancy and deaths remain at a very low level.
“It will take approximately three weeks to see the full extent of relaxations of May 24.
“There are early indications of increasing transmission of the Delta variant in Northern Ireland.”
Figures released yesterday showed there were 109 new cases of Covid infections but no deaths.
There were 14 Covid-19 inpatients, none of whom were in ICU.
Two care homes are currently dealing with actives outbreaks, according to the figures.