'Nothing further to add' say DoH when asked about potential NI/Britain travel ban to stop spread of Indian variant - Early opportunity for 35-39 year olds to book Covid-19 vaccine

The Department of Health (DoH) has said it has "nothing further to add" when we asked if it would consider banning travel from mainland Britain into Northern Ireland to help stop the spread of the Indian variant B.1.617.

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 9:27 am

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Anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen will be banned from entering the country if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.

LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus NI - ‘Nothing further to add’ say DoH when asked about potential NI/Britain travel ban to stop spread of Indian variant

Last updated: Monday, 19 April, 2021, 17:39

  • No new deaths and 79 new infections detected in last 24 hours
  • 'Nothing further to add' say DoH when asked about potential NI/Britain travel ban to stop spread of Indian variant
  • Early opportunity for 35-39 year olds to book Covid-19 vaccine
  • Indian variant could see ROI ban travel from Britain

'Nothing further to add' say DoH when asked about potential NI/Britain travel ban to stop spread of Indian variant

The Department of Health (DoH) has said it has "nothing further to add" when we asked if it would consider banning travel from mainland Britain into Northern Ireland to stop the spread of the Indian variant B.1.617.

Some experts have suggested that due to the two mutations contained in B.1.617, vaccines could be less effective and the virus could be much more infectious.

The most recent data from health authorities shows approximately 100 cases of B.1.617 in England and Scotland but none, so far, in Northern Ireland.

We contacted the DoH to see if a potential travel ban on people arriving in Northern Ireland from Britain is something the DoH would consider.

The first response we received stated there was no change to the way Northern Ireland functions within the Common Travel Area (CTA) of the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands.

However, we replied and repeated our specific query asking if there could be a review of travel from Britain into Northern Ireland as a way of stopping the spread of B.1.617 a departmental spokesperson replied saying: “we have nothing further to add”.

The UK government has since placed India on the red travel list which meaning anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen will be banned from entering the UK if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.

No new deaths and 79 new cases of Covid-19 detected in last 24 hours

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

Another 79 people have tested positive for the virus in the last 24-hour reporting period.

On Monday morning, there were 69 confirmed Covid-19 inpatients in hospital, eight of whom were in ICU.

Virus variant identified in India could ‘catch out’ the vulnerable – expert

The variant of coronavirus first identified in India is likely to become a “variant of concern” which could potentially lead to the country being put on the UK’s travel “red list”, an immunology expert has said - writes Ella Pickover, PA Health Correspondent.

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said variants of the virus which causes Covid-19 “do pose a threat” and vulnerable people could be “caught out”.

It came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled his scheduled visit to India next week “in light of the current coronavirus situation”.

Dozens of cases of the variant have been identified in the UK.

The variant, also known as B.1.617, is currently designated as a “variant under investigation” (VUI) rather than a “variant of concern” (VOC), such as those first identified in Kent, Manaus (Brazil) or South Africa.

Prof Altmann said some people in the population are still vulnerable and can “still be caught out” by variants.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I am concerned about all the variants. Don’t get me wrong, I think our road map is going well and at the moment, in this country, we are doing rather well, enjoying unlocking.

“But out there, there is the Indian variant, the South African, Brazilian etc, and they do pose a threat.”

He added: “At the moment, we are still vulnerable, and some people in our population are still vulnerable – what I mean by that is the Indian variant, for example, certainly has a mutation like the ones that evade the best neutralising antibodies.

“What that means is, if you have a population where at least half of us have had zero or one dose of vaccine, some won’t have made a very good response to the vaccine, because perhaps they are very old or obese or unwell, we still have a very large vulnerable population who can still be caught out by variants like this.

“At the moment, this particular variant is called a variant under investigation, not a variant of concern because it hasn’t been escalated to that level yet.

“My assumption from everything I’ve seen is that it will become a variant of concern.

“When it becomes a variant of concern, I’d be quite surprised if India wasn’t on the red list.”

Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said that the variant of the virus first identified in India should be “watched carefully” but it is “probably not at the top tier of mutations that generate the most concern”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the first cases of the variant were identified late last year.

“This variant has a couple of mutations that are among those that we think are important that should be watched carefully, but they’re actually probably not at the very kind of top tier of mutations, for example in the B117 – or Kent variant – or the South African variant, that generate the most concern.

“And in terms of spread, clearly this variant has increased in frequency in India around the same time as their very large and tragic recent wave,

“But I just don’t think we know yet whether there’s a cause-and-effect relationship – is this variant driving that spread? Or is it happening at the same time perhaps due to a coincidence?”

He added: “And one thing to note is that there were some sequences of this variant B.1.617 seen late last year. And so in some sense, if it really is driving this wave, the fuse has been burning for quite a long time, which would make it look probably less transmissible than B117.”

Asked whether India should be placed on the so-called “red list” for travel, Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London, said his preference was to “err on the side of caution and act sooner rather than later”, but that the decision was a political one.

Prof Hayward, who is on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), and also a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told the Today programme: “The evidence of increased transmissibility and escape from immunity is circumstantial.

“That said, it’s going to take a number of weeks at least before that evidence gets firmed up and we find out more.

“Certainly some countries and areas have taken the view that that’s enough for them to be quite concerned – so for example, Hong Kong has put on a two-week travel ban, which will allow them to find out a little bit more.”

Asked if he would be in favour of India being put on the travel red list, he said: “It’s a balance of harms and benefits and the challenge with that is that the level of harm is quite high because we’re highly connected with India – there’s a lot of economic interaction as well as family and social interaction.

“And on the other hand, what we have is an unknown level of risk – my own preference in all of this is to err on the side of caution and to act sooner rather than later. But ultimately, that’s going to be a political decision.”

According to the latest update from Public Health England (PHE), 73 cases of the B.1.617 variant, which was first discovered in India, have been found in England, as well as four cases in Scotland.

There are four so-called “variants of concern” and seven “variants under investigation” which have been identified in the UK.

The Government has faced calls to move India to the travel “red list”, which would mean only UK nationals could return from the country and those doing so must pay to quarantine in a Government-approved hotel for 10 days.

Mr Johnson has said it was “only sensible” to cancel his trip, as ministers consider whether to add the nation to the travel “red list” on the advice of experts.

The cancellation came as New Delhi entered a week-long lockdown to tackle a surge in cases and prevent a collapse of the capital’s health system, as India reported 273,810 new infections – the highest daily rise since the pandemic began.

The Prime Minister told broadcasters during a visit to Gloucestershire: “Narendra Modi and I have basically come to the conclusion that, very sadly, I won’t be able to go ahead with the trip.

“I do think it’s only sensible to postpone, given what’s happened in India, the shape of the pandemic there.”

Early opportunity for 35-39 year olds to book Covid-19 vaccine

The vaccine programme in Northern Ireland has some limited availability for those aged 35 to 39 to book a Covid-19 vaccine.

This opportunity is in advance of opening the programme to the entire 35-39 age group by the end of April.  Appointments are mainly available at the vaccine centre at the SSE Arena and bookings will be available from 2.00pm today.  Appointments in community pharmacies will be made available to 35-39 year olds later in April as vaccine supplies permit.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I have always been clear that we would move through the vaccine programme as quickly as vaccine deliveries and capacity allows as recommended by JCVI.  I recently announced that we successfully administered over one million vaccines across Northern Ireland to the highest priority groups.  This figure is expected to rise exponentially as the Trust vaccine centres and GP practices continue to deliver second doses while the vaccine centre at the SSE Arena and the Community pharmacists push ahead to deliver first doses. Opening up to 35-39 year olds earlier than expected is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all staff who are delivering the vaccination programme in Northern Ireland. 

“I encourage those who are eligible to seize this opportunity and take up the offer of vaccination. Getting the vaccine not only protects you but also those close to you.  I would also strongly encourage anyone aged 40 years or over who hasn’t booked themselves a vaccination appointment yet to do so as soon as possible.”

In line with recent JCVI advice, those living in the same house with someone who is severely immunosuppressed will also be able to access the programme shortly, once their household has received a letter from their GP.

Appointments at this stage are limited and the Department is asking for patience.  If you cannot get an appointment immediately keep trying.  Appointments will be more widely available by the end of April.

If possible, booking should be done online at: https://covid-19.hscni.net/get-vaccinated

However, where online booking is not possible, the telephone booking number is 0300 200 7813.

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