LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus NI: January level surge predicted if B.1.617.2 Indian variant allowed to spread - 'No other variant comes close' says Professor Christina Pagel of Indian variant

Prof Christina Pagel, director of the clinical operational research unit at University College London and a member of the Independent Sage, has said the United Kingdom will risk the possibility of a surge in infections similar to what unfolded in January if the Indian B.1.617.2 variant is allowed to spread.

Monday, 24th May 2021, 1:51 pm

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People queue to receive a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus NI - January level surge predicted if B.1.617.2 Indian variant allowed to spread

Last updated: Monday, 24 May, 2021, 14:44

No deaths recorded as DoH confirms 53 new infections detected in last 24 hours

There have been no further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

Another 53 positive cases were also confirmed by the region’s Department of Health.

On Monday morning there were 29 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom two were in intensive care.

January level surge predicted if B.1.617.2 Indian variant allowed to spread

Prof Christina Pagel, director of the clinical operational research unit at University College London and a member of the Independent Sage, has said the United Kingdom will risk the possibility of a surge in infections similar to what unfolded in January if the Indian B.1.617.2 variant is allowed to spread.

There are currently 15 confirmed cases of the Indian variant in Northern Ireland.

B.1.617.2 is believed to be twice as transmissible as the UK variant which first appeared in Kent.

Such is the concern over B.1.617.2 that Public Health England (PHE) has increased the level of vaccine escape from amber to red.

It has also been reported that someone with only one Covid-19 jab is 33% protected from symptomatic illness - this increases to 66% for AstraZeneca two weeks after the person has had their vaccination.

“Right now, we should reintroduce masks in schools, accelerate vax and make vax more accessible to communities, support people to isolate and support businesses & schools to improve ventilation,” says Prof Christina Pagel.

Professor Pagel added: “If B.1.617.2 does not start looking less scary, we must wait until we have fully vaxxed more people. IF cases keep going up next week - consistent with continued rapid growth of B.1.617.2 - we should consider rolling back step 3 of roadmap.”

Northern Ireland’s latest move out of lockdown hailed as ‘enormous step forward’

Northern Ireland Economy Minister Diane Dodds at the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast as lockdown restrictions ease allowing the reopening of indoor hospitality.

The latest easing of the Covid-19 rules in Northern Ireland has been hailed by the region’s economy minister as an “enormous step forward” - writes Rebecca Black and James Ward, PA.

Indoor hospitality and indoor visitor and cultural attractions may reopen from Monday, and people can meet inside private homes again, limited to six people from no more than two households.

Meanwhile, the limit on the size of outdoor gatherings has increased to 500, a move that was celebrated early on Monday by sea swimmers returning to the coast in large groups.

Non-essential travel is permitted to the rest of the UK, and a traffic light system is in place for foreign travel.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill wished all the businesses reopening today good luck in a video message posted on her Twitter account.

“Today we take another huge step forward as more businesses reopen. I want to wish businesses and workers the very best of luck,” she said.

“Credit to the public and our health workers for getting us to this point of reopening.

“Let’s continue to make progress and keep moving forward!”

Diane Dodds visited the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast early on Monday as indoor hospitality was able to resume for the first time this year.

Restaurants and pubs with outside space were able to reopen at the end of last month.

Ms Dodds said: “It’s brilliant to see things back open fully; we have already had hospitality open to a limited degree but obviously Northern Ireland isn’t particularly suited to outdoor dining, so it’s brilliant to see everyone back into restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfasts, the really wide opening of hospitality and tourism.

“It’s also an enormously good day for families, where we can welcome people into our homes for the first time in many many months … and of course for sports and weddings and so on.

“It’s an enormous step forward for the Northern Ireland economy and we want to see that sustained, we want to see reopening safely and sustainably done so that we can continue to drive the economy forward.”

Mrs Dodds said she is looking forward to the next major reopenings which will be the general arts and entertainment sector.

“We want to see live venues open, we want to see theatres open, we want to see that aspect of our life return to normal as well,” she said.

Grand Central Hotel general manager Stephen Meldrum said over the last four weeks they have been preparing for the reopening to the public.

The hotel accommodated key workers during the pandemic.

“Each lockdown that we’ve gone through we have learned a little bit more, how to adapt our premises to be Covid compliant,” he said.

“We’re really hopeful that we will not have to lock down again.

“Bookings have been very strong, over the last four weeks we have seen a marginal increase in bookings, particularly at the weekends where people want to come to the city centre and enjoy various parts of hospitality.”

While it may be some time before the hotel can welcome international visitors back, Mr Meldrum said they understand there is huge interest in coming to Northern Ireland.

“Our sales team have been saying that the appetite for international travel is huge, particularly with the North American market who really want to get back to Northern Ireland and experience the great hospitality we have to offer,” he said.

All tourism accommodation will also be able to reopen from May 24.

A limit on the size of outdoor gatherings has increased to 500 – a figure that will also apply to the number of spectators able to attend sporting fixtures.

Indoor group exercise is allowed again, enabling indoor sports teams to resume training.

Indoor visitor and cultural attractions can also reopen from Monday, which includes museums, galleries, cinemas, indoor play areas, bowling alleys, amusement arcades, bingo halls and libraries.

With regard to indoor hospitality, people can sit at tables of six with no limit on households. It will be table service only.

Post-wedding and civil partnership receptions can also take place.

There will be no limit on the numbers at the top table, with a limit of 10 for other tables. Dancing will be restricted to a couple’s first dance.

Under relaxations agreed at Thursday’s Executive meeting, Stormont’s Stay Local message is also to be removed.

Schools can resume extra-curricular activities, indoor extra-curricular sports, outdoor inter-school sports and day educational visits.

Robin Swann says travelling to Spain for summer holiday is against the law but then performs U-turn and says he misspoke

Health Minister, Robin Swann.

Health Minister, Robin Swann, wrongly said it is illegal for people in Northern Ireland to travel to Spain for summer holiday.

Minister Swann made the announcement on The Stephen Nolan Show on Monday morning.

Northern Ireland’s policy on international travel is similar to that of England.

There are currently 12 countries and territories on a ‘green list’ - this means individuals travelling into the UK from a country on the green list will not be required to go into quarantine.

One aspect of Boris Johnson’s travel strategy that caused confusion was the fact that people can still travel to countries on the amber list despite being advised not to.

The same rule applies Northern Ireland.

The only difference between travelling to a country on the green list and a country on the the amber list is that those entering NI via a country must then self-isolate for 10

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