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Ministers visit Contact Tracing Centre in Ballymena - a key part of the fight against COVID19

First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann with Andrew Dougal (Chair of the Public Health Agency) during a visit to the Contract Tracing Service at the County Hall, Ballymena.

Contact tracing is a cornerstone of our response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ministers have said today.

The First Minister, deputy First Minister and Health Minister were speaking after they visited the Public Health Agency’s Contact Tracing Centre in Ballymena.

Following a tour of the tracing centre, the Ministers got a preview of a new public information campaign aimed at raising awareness of the new digital service.

The digital service supports the manual contact tracing teams and enables those aged 16+  who have tested positive for Covid-19, to enter their details digitally to help identify close contacts as quickly and efficiently as possible. Close contacts then receive an alert by text informing them of their exposure and the need to self-isolate.

Speaking during the visit, First Minister Arlene Foster said: “Effective contact tracing is an essential element of our response to this pandemic and the Public Health Agency team should be commended for its efforts.

“We have seen how the service has been able to adapt, develop and innovate since its inception. The integration of this new digital service will allow contacts to be reached more quickly and inevitably help limit transmission of the virus.

“People will no doubt be encouraged by the vaccination roll-out commencing this week, but we must remember that it will be some time before many will receive the vaccine. Until then we must all continue to follow the health advice and co-operate with the tracing service if required.”

The deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Contact tracing is helping to break the chain of transmission of the virus in our community and the contact tracing team is rightly proud of its role in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The digital self-trace service is another key development in our fight against Covid-19. But we all too have a role to play in ensuring we protect our health service, which can only do so much. We need people to work together to protect themselves, their loved ones, our health care workers and our communities against this deadly virus.

“By working together, we can be effective in our response to Covid-19. Test, Trace and Protect can only play its role if people who are symptomatic get tested, share details of their contacts if they get a positive result, and self-isolate if they’re asked to.

“Our role in government is to provide the financial and practical support so people can self-isolate.  Employers, too, must make it easy for their employees to self-isolate.  We all must support each other to do the right thing.”

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “We were the first place in the UK to introduce universal Covid-19 contact tracing after the lockdown was lifted, and have continually adapted how we deliver it to meet the ever-changing demands of the virus.

“People who choose not to use digital self-trace will still be contacted manually, but we would urge as many people as possible to use the online option to speed up the process and slow down the spread.

“The reality remains though that we cannot test and trace ourselves out of coronavirus, and while these aspects of the pandemic response are essential in the battle against the disease, there is no silver bullet. Reducing Covid-19 ultimately relies on every one of us to take steps to help protect ourselves and those around us.”

In addition to getting details of close contacts, the Public Health Agency has also rolled out enhanced contact tracing, this places greater focus on collecting information on where people who test positive have been over the previous week. Gathering this intelligence will not only help identify if specific actions are needed to deal with an issue around a particular location, but it will also help us build a picture of the types of setting in which coronavirus is spreading.

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