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Public Health Emergency Team to meet to 'advance Covid-19 preparedness plans for Ireland'

Three people have died in Italy, which is experiencing Europe’s first major outbreak of the virus.

The South Korean city of Daegu has seen the biggest increase in infections outside China.
The South Korean city of Daegu has seen the biggest increase in infections outside China.
Image: PA Images

Updated Feb 24th 2020, 9:47 AM

THE NATIONAL PUBLIC Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met yesterday and is set to meet again tomorrow to “monitor the Covid-19 situation in Europe and globally, and to advance preparedness plans for Ireland”.

There have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland to date, but there are growing fears that the virus could arrive here after an outbreak in Italy.

Three people have died in Italy, where there have been over 150 cases to date – the highest number of cases in a country outside Asia.

Police are patrolling perimeters around virus-stricken northern Italian towns and the country has put tens of thousands of people under lockdown and cancelled festivals and sporting events in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus.

Austrian authorities are monitoring the situation and considering introducing border controls with Italy.

Speaking following yesterday’s meeting, the NPHET noted that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) now rates the risk of the occurrence of similar clusters of cases in other EU countries as moderate to high.

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health, said Ireland has been working on its preparedness for Covid-19 since January.

“We remain in a containment phase and, to date, there have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 here.

“However, clearly the international situation is evolving. We will work with counterparts at the ECDC and WHO over the coming days to fully assess and incorporate the implications of these developments into our approach in Ireland.”

Holohan said the team’s public health advice currently remains unchanged – anyone who may have been in contact with a person who has Covid-19, or who has been to mainland China in the last 14 days, is advised to contact the HSE.

Holohan said if such a person is unwell and has a cough, especially with respiratory symptoms (such as high temperature, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fever) they should isolate themselves and phone their GP immediately.

In a statement the NPHET said its decision-making “will continue to be guided by WHO and ECDC assessments throughout the coming days”.

Advice for members of the public, and the latest updates, can be read here.

Iran 

As authorities in Italy battle to contain Europe’s first major outbreak, the death toll from Covid-19 in Iran has been updated from 12 to at least 50 people – the highest toll outside China.

At least 50 people have died in the Iranian city of Qom this month, Iran’s semi-official ILNA news agency reported today.

An official from Qom was quoted by ILNA as saying that more than 250 people are in quarantined in the city. The 50 deaths reportedly date as far back as 13 February, but Iran first officially reported cases of the virus and its first deaths on 19 February.

Several countries reported cases connected to travel to Iran. Kuwait confirmed its first cases today in three people who had travelled from Iran, and Bahrain reported its first case, also a traveller returning from Iran. The United Arab Emirates said new cases there included Iranian tourists.

A number of countries have closed their borders with Iran or effectively barred travellers from there, a similar step to the actions numerous countries have taken to ward off the spread of the illness from China.

Some of the disease clusters identified in recent days have shown no link to China, a worrying sign of the virus spreading beyond control.

In Italy’s northern Lombardy region, which includes the nation’s financial capital Milan, the governor announced the number of confirmed cases stood at 110.

South Korea 

Meanwhile, officials have said the number of Covid-19 cases in South Korea has risen by 161 to 763. 

Two more deaths from the strain of coronavirus have also been recorded, bringing the total in the country to seven.

More than 140 of South Korea’s new cases were in and near the city of Daegu, where most of the country’s infections have occurred so far.

The number of deaths in mainland China stands at 2,592, while 77,345 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the country.

While officials in South Korea have expressed hope they could contain the outbreak to the region surrounding Daegu, some experts noted signs of the virus circulating nationwide, including a number of cases in the capital Seoul.

Warning that China’s virus epidemic is “still grim and complex”, president Xi Jinping called for more efforts to stop the outbreak, revive industry and prevent the disease from disrupting spring planting of crops.

Xi defended the ruling Communist Party’s response as “timely and effective” in a video conference with officials in charge of anti-disease work, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

“The current epidemic situation is still grim and complex,” Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

“Prevention and control are at the most critical stage.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his government had increased its anti-virus alert level by one notch to “red”, the highest level.

It allows for the temporary closure of schools and reduced operation of public transportation and flights to and from South Korea.

The new school year in South Korea was postponed by one week until 9 March.

Moon said the outbreak “has reached a crucial watershed,” and that the next few days will be critical.

“We shouldn’t be bound by regulations and hesitate to take unprecedented, powerful measures,” he added.

Contains reporting from PA 

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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