Seven cases of the India variant of Covid-19 have been identified in Northern Ireland.
The Department of Health has been notified by the Public Health Agency of the first confirmed cases of the VUI B.1.617.2 (India) Coronavirus variant in the province.
In a statement, the Department of Health says it is working closely with the PHA and the Regional Virology Laboratory in relation to the investigation and assessment of the cases.
Contact tracing and a detailed heath protection risk assessment will form part of the public health response.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “This news is not entirely unexpected and plans are in place for such an eventuality.
“While preventative measures – including travel restrictions – are very important, the assessment is that these will delay rather than permanently prevent the spread of variants already detected elsewhere on these islands.
“Confirmation of these cases does not mean this variant is going to become the most prevalent or the dominant strain in Northern Ireland.
“It does, however, highlight why caution is still essential in relation to COVID-19.
“The most effective way to stop variants developing or spreading is to keep pushing down infection rates and transmission of the virus in our community.
“All variants spread in the same way. We protect ourselves and others by following public health advice and getting vaccinated when our turn comes.
“Social distancing and limiting the number of contacts we have are still vitally important. So too are wearing a face covering and washing hands well and often. Also, please always remember the particular risks from indoor settings, especially those that are crowded and have poor ventilation.”
Dr Stephen Bergin, director of public health at the Public Health Agency, said identification of the Indian variant in the region was "inevitable at some point".
He said the cases had been identified at a number of locations but said no further details could be given due to patient confidentiality issues.
"Whilst it is a disappointing development, it underpins the need for continued vigilance and adherence to the public health guidance - currently there are no additional measures that the public need to take on the back of this, but it is essential that people continue to work within the regulations and advice," he said.
"We ask that the public remain vigilant, keep their interactions with others down, continue following the health advice to limit the spread of Covid-19, and engage with the Contact Tracing Service if identified as a confirmed case or a close contact and follow the advice given."
Meanwhile, no further coronavirus-related deaths have been recorded in Northern Ireland in the past 24 hours, according to the Health Department.
The department says a total of 102 new cases of Covid-19 have been identified.
It says a total of 1,416,826 doses of coronavirus vaccine have now been administered.