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THIS EVENING, THE Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland confirmed the first case of coronavirus on the island of Ireland.

The person had travelled through Dublin from northern Italy and onto Northern Ireland.

It’s understood the person is being treated at a hospital in Belfast.

Stick with us for all the updates this evening.

So, here’s what we know so far:

  • One case has been confirmed of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland. We don’t know the age or gender of the person.
  • They had travelled from northern Italy to Northern Ireland and passed through Dublin Airport.
  • The authorities in the North say they will undertake every effort to limit the spread of the disease.

At a media briefing, Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency (PHA) confirmed that testing of a patient had resulted in a presumptive positive test for coronavirus.

The test outcome has now been sent to Public Health England laboratories for verification.

The patient is receiving specialist care and PHA officials are working to identify any contacts the patient had to help prevent further spread.

Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “We have been planning for the first positive case in Northern Ireland and have made clear that it was a question of when not if.”

Asked whether the person is from Northern Ireland, Dr McBride said: “I think the most important thing here is that we respect patient confidentiality so I’m not going to disclose any personal details about this individual. It would be inappropriate for me to do so. It would be wrong for me to do so.”

He added that he would not confirm where the individual is being held, but it is believed to be the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

Dr McBride said the patient had recently returned from northern Italy.

He said: “I don’t think it should cause a lot of concern (to the public). I think we should reassure the public as we have been doing all along – as the minister has said repeatedly it wasn’t a case of if but when we would have a case in Northern Ireland.

“We have now seen our first case in Northern Ireland – someone returning from northern Italy – and that is not unexpected.”

Just a reminder: there has been no confirmed case of Covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland.

My colleague Michelle Hennessy has details here on what the symptoms of the virus are and what protocols are in place to deal with suspected cases.

what are the syptoms

Here’s some more lines from Dr Michael McBride, chief medical officer in Northern Ireland.

“Viruses don’t recognise boundaries or borders. We will continue to work to protect the population in Northern Ireland,” Dr McBride said.

Asked how many staff are involved in protecting the public, he said it was a “difficult question to answer” because there are a “whole range” of staff playing different roles.

“I couldn’t put a figure on it but it is many, many hundreds of individuals working in this space in a very compressed period of time in a situation evolving rapidly,” he added.

So far, 600 people have been in contact with the HSE over their Covid-19 fears.

“Of course it’s possible that somebody in Ireland has [Covid-19], that’s clearly what happened in other countries since it started in China, because that’s how it spread. People came, they may or may not have been symptomatic – so it’s very important to us that people do come forward,” Dr Kevin Kelleher said.

“I think historically we had evidence that they didn’t work very well, we may now have evidence that may not be true. This may be one of the things that come out of this process.”

The HSE or Department of Health here hasn’t yet reacted to the confirmed case in Northern Ireland. 

Earlier in the week, the Department of Health said the country was in the “containment phase”.

“This means that, irrespective of case severity, all efforts are focused on identifying cases and their contacts early, in order to prevent further transmission (secondary spread),” it said.

However, Ireland is prepared to initiate a second mitigation phase if necessary.

“This will be activated where containment is no longer effective in controlling the spread of Covid-19 (Coronavirus). In this phase, our focus will be on identifying the cases who are most severely unwell,” the department added. More on that here

Here’s what the North’s chief medical officer had to say earlier specifically about cross-border cooperation.

“My first responsibility as chief medical officer for Northern Ireland to ensure that we take steps working with our colleagues in the Public Health Agency and working with colleagues in the HSE and the Republic of Ireland to protect the population,” he said. 

“Okay, viruses don’t recognise boundaries or borders. We will continue to work to protect the population in Northern Ireland. We will be working to support with our colleagues in the Republic of Ireland.”

A handy graphic here on how to prevent virus spreading. Again, it must be stressed that the authorities have repeated that there are no confirmed cases here as of yet. 

Across the UK as a whole, the Northern Ireland diagnosis brings the number of confirmed cases up to 16. 

The number of confirmed cases has surpassed 528 in Italy.

The first case, meanwhile, was confirmed today in Denmark.

In other Covid-19 news, the Dominican Republic has turned away a cruise ship carrying 1,500 people in the Caribbean.

Eight people on board – four Filipinos, two UK citizens and two US citizens – have reported potential symptoms. 

2.50804631 Source: PA Images

Here’s the full text of that statement: 

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has today been informed of a presumptive case of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Northern Ireland.

The patient is in isolation in Northern Ireland and is receiving treatment.

Public Health authorities have activated contact tracing protocols.

The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said: “Giving the evolving situation this first case of COVID-19 disease was not unexpected. The National Public Health Emergency Team has been planning for this scenario since January.”

“The general public should continue to adhere to the public health protocols issued by the Department of Health.”

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer in the Dept of Health, said: “The HSE is well-prepared and is working to inform any contacts the patient had in order to prevent transmission.”

“COVID-19 is spread through close contact with an infected person’s body fluids (e.g. droplets from coughing or sneezing), or by touching surfaces that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on.

“Close contact involves either face to face contact or spending more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of an infected person. The risk of transmission through casual contact is low.”

Public Health protocols, similar to those used to respond to previous incidents of pandemic influenza, SARS and MERS, have been in place since January and are operating effectively.

The general public are advised to follow advice from the HSE and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre to protect their health.

Any person concerned that they may have symptoms of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) should immediately isolate themselves from others and phone their GP.

The Ireland Six Nations game has already been called off.

And the five-day St Patrick’s Festival in Dublin is also under scrutiny.

Organisers said today an emergency health team was carrying out a risk assessment.

They said in a statement: “The direction from the NPHET to all events has been to await this risk assessment in order to determine the next course of action in relation to the staging of events including the St Patrick’s Festival Parade in Dublin on March 17.

“We have underscored the very urgent need for this documentation to be made available to the festival, so that an informed and prompt decision can be made regarding our forthcoming events. We have clarified to the relevant authorities our readiness to respond in whatever way is required of us in the best interests of public safety.”

We’re keen to do our best to answer any questions you may have about the coronavirus.

If you still have questions you want answered, here at TheJournal.ie we’re looking for you to send them to us so we can ask the experts. Find out more here.

Here’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride speaking about the confirmed case.

The case in Northern Ireland is not related to a school trip to Italy.

In recent days, much commentary on social media focused on school trips returning from northern Italy and potentially being at risk from the virus.

Earlier this week, Garreth MacNamee reported that schools in Wicklow and Dublin were taking precautions after the return of students from Italy ski trips

The person diagnosed in the North is understood to have travelled through Dublin Airport.

This wasn’t addressed in the statement from the Department of Health earlier.

On Tuesday, it said that there would be an increase in the level of public awareness campaigns at airports.

There are no entry restrictions to Ireland at present. So far, the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Control has not recommended entry screening at airports.

Actions that have been taken however, include: 

  • In the event of a suspected case, contact tracing forms will be distributed to all passengers and pass completed forms to HSE lead personnel at the incident site.
  • Prior to disembarking passengers will be advised to contact their GPs should they develop symptoms within the following 14 days.
  • The airline is instructed to decontaminate the aircraft in accordance with WHO aviation hygiene standards.

RTÉ Radio One’s Liveline featured a segment on coronavirus today.

Here’s what they tweeted out today of a “bug out bag” that some listeners were getting ready.

I don’t think we all need to be getting ourselves one of these just yet.

RTÉ’s Prime Time will feature health authorities speaking about the Northern Irish confirmed case.

“It’s here,” David McCullagh begins.

Health authorities both sides of the border reminding this evening that close, personal contact is required to transmit the virus. 

Dr Tony Holohan is talking to RTÉ News.

“This is not a surprise,” he begins.

He says the individual who was infected came forward and followed the instructions given by health authorities.

He says the advice “worked” in these circumstances.

The HSE will be contacting people who sat within two rows of the person on the plane from northern Italy to Dublin, and give advice on what they should do.

Department of Health chief medical officer Dr Holohan says “nothing has changed”.

“This shows guidelines are working,” he said. “The individual involved did the right thing.”

It’s looking inevitable for there to be a confirmed case in Ireland now at this stage. 

Earlier today, the head of the World Health Organization said we’re “at a decisive point”. 

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “If you act aggressively now, you can contain this virus, you can prevent people getting sick, you can save lives.”

RTÉ’s Prime Time is starting now. 

We should be hearing from health authorities north and south. 

RTÉ are speaking to the experts

Professor Ultan Power, from Queen’s University Belfast: “It’s not at all unexpected. It was a case of when not if.”

He says the people the patient came into contact with need to be traced, and establish if they may be infected. 

Dr Chris Luke tells RTÉ’s Prime Time Ireland is “reasonably well prepared”.

“The key issue is to prepare the population so they’re following the hygiene recommendations,” he says.

He says it’s important to be “obsessive” about washing your hands thoroughly and frequently. 

On if the health service can cope, Dr Luke says it depends on how many people come to our hospitals.

“Our emergency departments are full,” he says. “The staff are as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world. They’ll react and deal with any threat as and when it arises.”

He says it’s important the public “doesn’t panic”. 

“We will manage one way or the other,” the consultant says. 

“The worry is that there’ll be a surge of people with mild illnesses turning up at our GPs and emergency departments.”

Away from Prime Time, the HSE has just updated their advice on Covid-19.

Here’s what it says about the Northern Ireland case:

“There is a confirmed case of coronavirus in Northern Ireland. The patient travelled through the Republic of Ireland and is in isolation in Northern Ireland and receiving treatment.

“Public health authorities are working to inform any contacts the patient had in order to prevent transmission. Those at most risk of severe infection and those with most exposure will be contacted first.”

Dr Margaret Harris, from the World Health Organization coronavirus team, is speaking to RTÉ’s Prime Time now. 

She says there’s a lot of questions that the health service must answer in order to ensure it’s ready for an outbreak of Covid-19.

Those questions “ideally were asked weeks ago”. If not, they should be getting answered tonight. 

Philip Watt, of Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, is speaking to Prime Time Now. 

“Certainly a level of anxiety out there,” he says. “I think the government could do a bit more to involve patient groups in this whole issue.”

He says he’s asked the chief medical officer to hold meetings with groups most affected, such as asthma society.

“Handwashing is so important,” he says. “More fundamental things like if the pandemic gets really bad, our patients shouldn’t be attracted to hospitals.”

Professor Ultan Power on the people who’ve been re-infected with the virus.

“There’s still a lot of information we need to learn about this virus,” he says. “Is it a second infection or some incubation of the virus? At this point we don’t have the sufficient information to say one way or the other.

“If you’re aware of elderly folks or people who are at high risk, bear in mind if you have any symptoms at all they are still very vulnerable.”

Dr Tony Holohan speaking to Prime Time now.

The Dept of Health’s chief medical officer, says it’s important a person understands the advice that has been given.

If they don’t, “we have no chance of picking up the individual cases”. 

He says he’s confident we have the staff, but says there are “capacity challenges” in the system. 

The emergency departments have been mobilised already for the testing of negative cases, he says. 

Dr Holohan says our understanding of the virus is evolving. 

“What’s happened in Italy over the past number of days has given us reason to believe something like this could happen,” he says. 

He says the Chinese authorities responded really well. We believe we can take the measures, and ultimately if the public is responsible, to prevent the spread of infection, he says.

The passenger manifests and crew manifests will be checked, and those who were in close contact with the infected passenger – within two rows – will be contacted by the HSE, Dr Holohan says. 

And that’s it from the liveblog tonight.

TheJournal.ie will be providing you all the latest updates throughout the evening and tomorrow on Covid-19 and how Ireland is coping with the potential for an outbreak.

Thanks for joining us.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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