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Rush to track passengers as virus woman heads home through Dublin

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The woman arrived into Dublin Airport and journeyed on to Belfast via Dublin's Connolly Station

The woman arrived into Dublin Airport and journeyed on to Belfast via Dublin's Connolly Station

The woman arrived into Dublin Airport and journeyed on to Belfast via Dublin's Connolly Station

HSE public health doctors are scrambling to contact hundreds of passengers who were on a flight to Dublin with an Irish woman who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The woman, from Northern Ireland, also travelled on a train from Connolly Station in the city centre - one of the busiest in the country.

The plane in which she was a passenger had travelled to Dublin from Italy - where 650 have been infected and 17 people have died from the virus.

Hundreds of other rail passengers were being traced last night after it emerged she travelled on an Irish Rail train from Dublin to Belfast.

The flight had landed in Dublin in the previous 48 hours, sparking fears the patient may have exposed other passengers to the virus.

Warning

It is the first case of coronavirus on the island of Ireland and follows a warning by HSE officials that it could be circulating in the Republic but has not been picked up by tests.

Passengers who travelled with the woman are to be monitored over the next 14 days by public health doctors. They will be asked to self-isolate and be tested if they have symptoms.

The chief medical officer for Northern Ireland, Dr Michael McBride, said one person was confirmed to have the virus and that a second test is being done in England for verification.

It is unclear how symptomatic the infected woman was on the plane and if she was coughing and sneezing during the flight.

Officials declined to say if she had an aisle seat and if she used the toilet during the flight, which could have led to potentially contaminated surfaces.

No information was given on the airline but it is understood she took the Irish Rail train home from Dublin to Belfast, from Connolly Station. Dr McBride said the person was not part of a school trip, did not attend their GP and self-isolated instead.

He expressed confidence the health service are "on top" of dealing with the case.

An isolation ward has also been put in place at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

The National Public Health Emergency Team said they are aware of the" presumptive case" or the coronavirus known as of COVID-19 and that public health authorities have activated contact tracing protocols.

Health Minister Simon Harris said the first case on the island "was not unexpected" and officials had 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," he said.

Ireland's chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, stressed there is no need for panic and that the passenger did everything required to contain the spread of the virus.

"This is not a surprise. We've been prepared for this eventuality," he said on RTE last night.

Dr Holohan said the passenger followed the correct protocol and informed health authorities of her symptoms.

"This individual came forward, identified they had symptoms and liaised with us."

As for fellow passengers aboard the as-yet unidentified flight, he said the airline involved has the passenger manifest that would be handed over to health officials.

Contacted

Passengers sitting within two rows of the affected passenger are being contacted by health officials, he said.

But he said operations at the airport will remain as normal. "It doesn't give us cause for surprise," he said. "Nothing has changed."

The virus is spread through close contact with an infected person's body fluids, or droplets from coughing or sneezing.

It can also be contracted by touching surfaces that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on.

Close contact involves either face to face contact or spending over 15 minutes within two metres of an infected person.

Any person concerned that they may have symptoms the coronavirus should immediately isolate themselves from others and phone their GP.

Earlier the HSE said the coronavirus may already be circulating in Ireland but it has not been picked up.

The public health emergency came as senior civil servants warned Fianna Fail and Green Party TDs that the coronavirus could have a devastating impact on the economy.

In advance of the next government, Department of Finance secretary general Derek Moran, and Department of Public Expenditure secretary general Robert Watt, issued a grim warning about the virus and the impact it will have on global supply chains.

Meanwhile, the organisers of the St Patrick's Day Festival said they will take "a measured and proportionate response" to the public health threat from the new virus.


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