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Hundreds of pupils to stay home as coronavirus school shuts for two weeks

  • Hundreds of pupils told to stay home after infection confirmed
  • Patient being treated at Mater, parents to get daily text updates

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Dr John Cuddihy, Director of Health Protection Surveillance Centre and Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer Department of Health at a press conference on the confirmed case of COVID-19 in Ireland at the Department of Health in Dublin. Photo: Arthur Carron

Dr John Cuddihy, Director of Health Protection Surveillance Centre and Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer Department of Health at a press conference on the confirmed case of COVID-19 in Ireland at the Department of Health in Dublin. Photo: Arthur Carron

Dr John Cuddihy, Director of Health Protection Surveillance Centre and Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer Department of Health at a press conference on the confirmed case of COVID-19 in Ireland at the Department of Health in Dublin. Photo: Arthur Carron

Hundreds of pupils in a Dublin secondary school have been told to stay at home for two weeks after a student tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Parents were thrown into panic yesterday after receiving a letter from the HSE saying the school had been shut with pupils and staff put under active surveillance by public health doctors until March 16.

The student, the first person in the Republic to be diagnosed with the virus sweeping the globe, was being cared for in the isolation unit of the Mater Hospital in Dublin last night.

He caught the virus during a mid-term visit to one of the areas of northern Italy which has had the biggest infection outbreak in Europe.

The staff and students in the 400-pupil school have been told to restrict their movements and isolate themselves for the next 14 days. Parents got letters from the HSE yesterday informing them "a person" in the school had been identified as having the virus and that it would be closed for two weeks "as a precaution".

The letter provided information on how to reduce the risk of transmission but did not state it was a pupil who had the virus. Parents will get daily text messages from public health doctors and have been told to report any potential symptoms.

The decision by the Department of Health not to reveal the name of the school was criticised on social media last night. Some public representatives named the school on Twitter.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the school would not be named for reasons of patient confidentiality and the need to reassure other people who may have the infection that they can come forward without a breach of privacy.

It is understood Education Minister Joe McHugh has contacted the school principal and assured her support would be made available.

It is the second case on the island of Ireland in the space of a few days and follows news that a woman in Northern Ireland also has the virus following a trip to northern Italy.

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Workers disinfect subway trains against coronavirus in Tehran (Sajjad Safari/IIPA via AP)

Workers disinfect subway trains against coronavirus in Tehran (Sajjad Safari/IIPA via AP)

Workers disinfect subway trains against coronavirus in Tehran (Sajjad Safari/IIPA via AP)

It is the second case on the island of Ireland in the space of a few days and follows news that a woman in Northern Ireland also has the virus following a trip to northern Italy.

She returned to Ireland via Dublin airport and travelled on to Belfast by train.

Dr John Cuddihy, head of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said yesterday that not all of the contacts of the person who tested positive from the Dublin school had yet been traced and this work was ongoing.

The case has again heightened the risk of more people being diagnosed with the virus in the Republic, with particular fears about visitors who were recently in the 11 towns in northern Italy at the centre of the outbreak there.

Another five fatalities were announced in Italy yesterday, taking its death toll to 34 as the infection continues to cripple the country's northern regions.

The parents at the Dublin school are to receive a briefing from HSE officials at the school this morning.

Asked what restricted movement meant for the pupils, Dr Cuddihy said: "They need to limit social interactions, not go to school, work or sporting events."

He added that they should avoid contact with vulnerable groups. These include elderly people and those with weakened immune systems.

The decision only relates to this school and does not have implications for other schools.

Asked if more travel restrictions should be imposed in light of the risk of people abroad bringing it back to Ireland, health officials said it was a matter for individuals whether they travel or not. The Department of Foreign Affairs is advising against travel to mainland China and affected areas of northern Italy but there is no travel ban.

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A woman wearing a face mask on a bus in London. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

A woman wearing a face mask on a bus in London. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

PA

A woman wearing a face mask on a bus in London. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

The at-risk regions remain China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Iran and four areas in northern Italy - Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont.

Health Minister Simon Harris said it was important people heeded the advice of public health doctors who, following a risk assessment, decided it was best to close the school as a precautionary measure.

"It is important that schools stay open and follow the advice of the HSE in this regard," he added.

He said he appreciated the concerns of people involved and asked that they contact their GP if they had questions.

Dr Mel Bates, a GP in north Dublin, said family doctors were seeing an increase in questions from the "worried well" and this was expected to increase this week.

These patients do not fit into current risk categories but are worried that if the virus starts to spread here they will be vulnerable. "They may have had surgery and are worried if this leaves them at particular risk," he added.

Other GPs have expressed concern at the amount of time it is taking them to contact public health doctors on the phone with one doctor saying it is taking 45 minutes to get through. GPs must phone the public health doctors if they are contacted by a patient who has been abroad in an at-risk region and has potential symptoms of the virus.

Meanwhile, the first person in Scotland has tested positive for coronavirus.

Irish Independent


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