From COVID-19 Directorate
Mr Brendan Perry
Our Ref: FOI DOH/2021-0016
Date: 18 March 2021
Dear Mr Perry FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000
I firstly must apologise for the delay in answering your request for information.
The Department acknowledges public interest in the transparency and accountability
of government, and the immeasurable public interest associated with the current
pandemic and how that affects us all. We fully recognise that disclosure of
information will give citizens, like yourself, confidence that decisions are taken on the
basis of the best available information.
The Department is aware that we are outside the legislative time to respond.
However, as I hope you will understand, resources within the Department and wider
health organisations throughout Northern Ireland, have been stretched over the last
number of months due to ongoing and ever changing COVID-19 challenges. A
considerable number of staff have been redeployed from their normal “day jobs” to
work solely on the response to the current pandemic.
Unfortunately, the staff who are in the best position to answer your request, are the
very staff engaged in the daily discussions and consultations with the Minister and
the Executive in considering the most appropriate course of action to steer us
through the current crisis. Nevertheless, I am now in a position to respond to your
request from the 8 January 2021.
Please find the Department’s response at Annex A.
I would advise that a significant amount of information underpinning decisions taken
by the Department and the Health Minister is derived from work undertaken by other
organisations such as the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE),
Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) and the Public Health
Agency (PHA). As well as this information, the Department publishes a range of
relevant information on its website, including the daily dashboard. This information is
accessible via the following link: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/coronavirus
Additionally, the Health Minister provides regular updates to MLAs during plenary
sessions and the Health Minister and Departmental officials regularly attend Northern
Ireland Assembly Committee evidence sessions. Recordings and transcripts of these
can be viewed on the NI Assembly website.
If you feel that the information we have provided does not fully meet your request
please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
in the first instance. You
have the right to request that the Department formally review this decision within two
calendar months of the date of this letter. If you wish to do so, please write to Mr
Brendan O’Neil (email@example.com),
Annexe 3, Castle Buildings, Stormont,
Belfast BT4 3SQ.
If after such an internal review you are still unhappy with the response, you have the
right to appeal to the Information Commissioner at Wycliffe House, Water Lane,
Wilmslow, CHESHIRE SK9 5AF, who will undertake an independent review.
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to
quote the reference number above in any future communications.
Hello just wondering could you reveal the PCR cycle threshold data?
Each laboratory test will have recommendations from the manufacturer specifically
around how a test should be run and a guide to interpretation. However, it is best and
standard practice to assess locally the exact performance of all tests. This includes
establishing a cut off cycle threshold for PCR tests that contribute to the interpretation
of a result as positive or negative. Each PCR test, be it for bacteria, virus or fungi, will
undergo rigorous local assessment to establish individual cut off threshold cycle and
limit of detection.
For SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) testing, there are multiple
platforms and kits in use in Northern Ireland; each one of those has been assessed
individually with its own cycle threshold cut off. No one cut off cycle threshold can be
applied to multiple systems. The results of any laboratory diagnostic test, be it PCR or
other laboratory methods, is one element of the diagnosis of an individual. All
laboratory results must be considered within the clinical context and presentation of
the individual. Timing and quality of samples influence the likely detection of virus.
From a laboratory perspective the Ct (cycle threshold) value is only one of a number of
criteria that is considered when interpreting test results. Other criteria may include, for
example, multiple SARS-CoV-2 gene targets detection, fluorescence levels, sigmoidal
shape of amplification curves, and confirmatory testing using assays with alternative
specificity profiles, where required. This is in line with good laboratory practice and
the World Health Organisation (WHO) papers on PCR testing for SARS-CoV-2
You may also wish to read the Public Health England publication ‘Understanding cycle
threshold (Ct) in SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR’
which is available at the following link: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachme
And give the exact number of people who have died due to having COVID 19
The Department of Health defines a COVID-19 death as one which occurs within 28
days of a positive COVID-19 test, whether or not COVID-19 was the cause of death
Please also refer to page 15 of the COVID-19 Dashboard: