There is concern among health officials about a new strain of coronavirus circulating in Northern Ireland.
In the area on Wednesday, the first positive case of the new strain was confirmed.
The Chief Scientific Officer, Professor Ian Young, said he was “very concerned” about the new variant because it is more easily transmitted.
He cautioned that it could drive the R rate up to 1,8 if it becomes the dominant form.
“At the moment, R is probably between 1 and 1.2, and if we had the variant and we all behaved the same way, R would be closer to 1.6 and 1.8, and that would have serious consequences,” he said on the Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster.
Prof. Young said it would be very unlikely that schools could be kept open if the variant were the prevalent type.
He said that he did not agree that the variant in Northern Ireland was actually a “major form” but he was sure that there were a small number of instances.
“This particular variant appears to be significantly different from many others that have been circulating, it has a number of different mutations or changes to its genetic material and these affect the structure of some of the key parts of the virus,” he said. As a result, the virus is more likely to be transmitted more quickly than the sort of virus we’re used to, anywhere between 40-70% more easily transmitted,’ he said.
“We don’t think it causes more severe disease…and we’re reasonably confident that it will still respond to the vaccine and that the vaccine will protect against this aberrant form.”