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Coronavirus may already be circulating in Ireland, but none picked up on tests - HSE

  • No confirmed cases in Ireland yet
  • HSE receives 2,000 calls in first week of helpline
  • Concerns over large public gatherings
  • Trump, Macron and others worldwide implement emergency measures

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27/02/2020 (L to R) Dr Kevin Kelleher, Assistant National Director Public Health & Child Health at the HSE & Sonya Cotter, Interim Head of Special Delivery Unit during a media Briefing on Covid-19, Seasonal Flu and Winter Plan at the HSE National Communications Division, Cornmarket,Dublin.  Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

27/02/2020 (L to R) Dr Kevin Kelleher, Assistant National Director Public Health & Child Health at the HSE & Sonya Cotter, Interim Head of Special Delivery Unit during a media Briefing on Covid-19, Seasonal Flu and Winter Plan at the HSE National Communications Division, Cornmarket,Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

27/02/2020 (L to R) Dr Kevin Kelleher, Assistant National Director Public Health & Child Health at the HSE & Sonya Cotter, Interim Head of Special Delivery Unit during a media Briefing on Covid-19, Seasonal Flu and Winter Plan at the HSE National Communications Division, Cornmarket,Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

The coronavirus may already be circulating in Ireland but it has not been picked up on tests so far, HSE official Dr Kevin Kelleher said today.

And pressure on ambulances is forcing suspect cases to arrange their own transport to hospital for a swab test, increasing the risk of it being passed on if they are positive.

No confirmed case of the virus has emerged despite over 100 suspect cases being tested.

However, HSE public health officials said the fear is that someone who has it will delay seeking medical care.

There is the potential for more people being infected by that person during the time lag.

This would mirror the crisis in parts of north Italy where hundreds of people have tested positive in the last week.

The HSE also conceded there is a risk of an outbreak in overcrowded hospitals which continue to battle the trolley crisis.

Suspect cases who need to be brought to hospital for a swab test can no longer be routinely brought by ambulance.

They will have to arrange their own transport with a relative.

This is because of the rising number of suspect cases due to more countries being added to the at risk list.

Use of an ambulance would take from the delivery of other routine care.

However, using people’s own transport to take them to hospital for a swab also increases the chance of passing on the infection if the prove positive.

The HSE briefing was told that around 2,000 queries were received by the HSE helpline over the past week about the coronavirus and some 300 were referred to public health staff.

Adequate stocks of protective equipment and clothing which are essential for health staff are available despite difficulties in procuring the items.

Meanwhile, the organisers of the St Patrick’s Day Festival said today they will take “a measured and proportionate response” to the public health threat from the new coronavirus.

The spread of the virus to countries which will be sending participants to the festival has raised questions about it going ahead.

In a statement today, the organisers said that following detailed meetings yesterday with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, it has been confirmed to St Patrick’s Festival that the National Public Health Emergency Team has established an expert sub-group to develop criteria for the risk assessment of mass gatherings.

This criteria is expected to be made available early next week.

While the IRFU are working frantically with their Italian counterparts and Six Nations chiefs to find a suitable date to rearrange their postponed fixture as the tournament hangs in the balance.

Further disruption to the remaining Six Nations schedule looks inevitable as the threat of the coronavirus rapidly spreads across Europe.

Across the world, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordered hospitals to ensure sufficient medical supplies, protective gear and staff. US President Donald Trump put his vice president, Mike Pence, in charge of America's response, while France's President Emmanuel Macron rallied the nation.

"We have a crisis before us. An epidemic is on its way," Macron said at a Paris hospital where a 60-year-old Frenchman this week became the second person to die from the coronavirus in France.

Germany, too, has warned of an impending endemic. And Greece, which is a gateway for refugees from the Middle East and beyond, announced tighter border controls, with particular attention on islands used by migrants.

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Tourists wearing protective masks walk near Duomo square, as a coronavirus outbreak continues to grow in northern Italy, in Milan, Italy, February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

Tourists wearing protective masks walk near Duomo square, as a coronavirus outbreak continues to grow in northern Italy, in Milan, Italy, February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

REUTERS

Tourists wearing protective masks walk near Duomo square, as a coronavirus outbreak continues to grow in northern Italy, in Milan, Italy, February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

A rash of countries have had their first cases in recent days, the latest being Denmark with a man back from a ski holiday in Italy, and Estonia with someone returning from Iran.

There is no cure for the virus that can lead to pneumonia, and a vaccine may take up to 18 months to develop.

New cases in South Korea took its total to 1,261 with 12 deaths, while Europe's hotspot Italy had 453 infections and 12 deaths, and Iran reported 245 cases and 26 fatalities.

In Singapore, authorities said a 12-year-old student at the elite Raffles Institution school was among the three new cases confirmed on Thursday, taking the city state's tally of infections to 96.

The United States is managing 59 cases - most Americans repatriated from a cruise ship quarantined in Japan where almost 700 cases developed. But Trump said the risk was "very low" in the United States which was "very, very ready".

Chinese authorities said the number of new deaths stood at 29 on Thursday, its lowest daily tally since Jan. 28. There were just 433 new cases in mainland China over the previous day, compared to 586 in nations and territories elsewhere.

Online Editors