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Irish to track deadly coronavirus for months

Summer flights to China from Dublin will be assessed by experts to prevent spread of illness


Foreign travellers wearing masks check their flight's departure information at Beijing International Airport. Photo: Reuters

Foreign travellers wearing masks check their flight's departure information at Beijing International Airport. Photo: Reuters


Foreign travellers wearing masks check their flight's departure information at Beijing International Airport. Photo: Reuters

Summer flights scheduled to link China and Dublin will be assessed by Irish health officials who expect to spend months monitoring the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

At present, there are no direct flights between Irish airports and China, but a new service between Dublin and Shanghai, with a stop each way in Helsinki, starts in March.

Meanwhile, flights to Beijing are set to resume in the summer.

While the HSE insists it is well versed to cope with a potential breakout here, the coronavirus is being monitored by experts at the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) with a view at preventing the spread of the disease.

Briton Chris Hill talks about his reasons for staying in coronavirus-hit Wuhan in China and the reaction from the Foreign Office when he told officials he would not be accepting the flight he was offered back to the UK.

HPSC director Dr John Cuddihy conceded routes set to open later in the year will be assessed with a view to containing the deadly virus.

"We will certainly be monitoring that over the next few months," he told the Sunday Independent.

"It is very early in the evolution of this new virus at the moment, but it is likely that we will be looking at it over the next weeks and months."

Some international and domestic flights from the Wuhan province worst hit by the coronavirus, and other parts of China, have already been cancelled to help prevent the virus from spreading.

Timelapse of motorway in Wuhan, China, which is under lockdown following the outbreak of the coronavirus.

"Currently, there has been a huge number of cancellations of flights from that area of China particularly," Dr Cuddihy said.

"The protocols we have issued to the GPs, hospital clinicians and the ambulance service - and the fact the public are being asked if they have travelled to Wuhan province in China in the past 14 days and have respiratory symptoms to call their GP - means their situations can be assessed and necessary steps taken."

Dublin Airport said it acts on the advice of the HPSC, which follows the guidance of the World Health Organisation.

A spokesman added it is ready to change to procedures if necessary.

"The HSPC has said that given there are no flights to Irish airports from Wuhan, which is at the centre of the outbreak, there is no requirement for entry screening at Irish airports," he said.

"Separately, there are formal protocols in place in the event of a passenger presenting with acute respiratory infection on an inbound aircraft, and these will be adhered to."

A man has died of the coronavirus in the Philippines, the first confirmed fatality outside China. The patient was a 44-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan, where the virus was first detected.

HSE national director of national services Joe Ryan said the recent winter flu "has been a live test" for the health service that will "model" any necessary response to a coronavirus outbreak.

While the winter flu season put huge pressure on the hospital network last month and led to record-breaking numbers of people waiting on trolleys, Mr Ryan said plans rehearsed at a local and national level will be used to manage a coronavirus outbreak.

He said he is confident there are adequate plans in place here to manage and contain future outbreaks of deadly diseases.

No coronavirus cases have been detected in Ireland but the HSE insists a strong action plan is in place to identify the disease in a patient with appropriate symptoms.

Testing for the coronavirus will be available here from tomorrow.

Mr Ryan said anyone who presented at a GP, port or airport with a suspected case of the coronavirus would initially be dealt with at a local level.

"Ideally you would have the person self-isolated if that was safe to do so, or if they needed to be in a hospital we would take them in to our standard hospital using our standard isolation arrangements and processes.

"Flu has been a live test for us and is every year as to how we deal with surges that we have, whether it is in the emergency department, whether it is in isolation or whether it is on ICU beds.

"There is a standard way in which you do that because that keeps it safe.

"That is all that emergency management is about, having a standard response to different types of problems."

Sunday Independent

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