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Ireland should expect 'a very big increase' in suspected coronavirus cases in the next few weeks

Health Minister Simon Harris stresses this does not mean a significant number of positive cases.

Tourists wear face masks at the Vatican in Rome.
Tourists wear face masks at the Vatican in Rome.
Image: Vandeville Eric/PA Images

IRISH AUTHORITIES EXPECT to see “a very big increase” in the number of suspected coronavirus cases over the next few weeks, the government has said.

Health Minister Simon Harris said this is “by the very virtue” of the fact that Ireland expanded its list of affected regions yesterday and that people will be returning from these areas.

Harris emphasised that this does not mean Ireland will see a significant number of positive cases, only suspected ones.

So far, 90 cases have been tested in Ireland but all have come back negative. No one in Ireland has yet tested positive for the coronavirus named Covid-19.

“By the very virtue of the fact that we expanded significantly the list of affected regions yesterday, we are now highly likely to see a very big increase in suspect cases in the coming weeks, suspect as opposed to positive cases,” Harris told reporters this morning. 

So we’ve seen 90 suspect cases so far. But remember yesterday we told people that we’re adding a load of new countries to the list. So lots of people from Ireland will have been in these countries in the last 14 days, some of them may show symptoms, some of the may need to be tested. So it’s an acknowledgement of the fact that the number of countries affected has expanded.

Harris went to to say that it’s now “probable” that there will be a case of Covid-19 in Ireland but that if this happens “it is not a sign of failure on behalf of our public health authorities”.

He said the risk of clusters breaking out in other parts of the EU is now “moderate to high”.

“Containment is not about being able to prevent all cases it’s about trying to reduce the risk of spreading,” Harris added. 

The minister said that there is a plan in place by the CEO of the HSE to “have an isolation facility available in every hospital” should this be required. 

Harris said earlier today that banning flights from specific countries is not an option because it would be ineffective in containing the virus. 

Expanding on this to reporters, Harris said that banning flights “simply wouldn’t work”. 

“People move from one country to another country to other countries. So Europe needs to act together on all decisions and Ireland would always act in unison with the European Commission, and with the World Health Organisation in relation to all of these issues. And our responses have to be proportionate,” he said. 

It emerged yesterday that a number of schools had expressed concern over children returning from ski trips in northern Italy, one of the affected areas.

Parents have been told that if children returning from these areas are displaying symptoms of Covid-19 they should isolate themselves from other people and seek medical assistance.

Asked whether Covid-19 testing should be available to parents worried about children returning from affected regions, Harris says testing is ‘an option’ that should be discussed with a GP. 

“Just to be really clear, because I think this is important information for parents. If your child has been on a skiing trip or has been in an affected area, the advice in relation to that child is the same as the advice in relation to any of us if they’re showing symptoms, self-isolate, contact your GP,” he said. 

If you’re worried, contact your GP, check the HSE website with a lot of information within since they’re not showing any symptoms that we’re not telling people not to go to school. That seems to be the norm across the European Union.

Harris remains as health minister until a new one has been appointed and referring to the current political climate, he said he has spoken to the health spokespeople from other parties.

“We will still be working on this for many months ahead it looks like and so I’ve been keeping in contact with the health spokespeople of the number of the political groupings.  I spoke to the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on health, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on health, the Labour Party spokesperson on health.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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