Monday 17 June 2019

Ebola Triangle too dangerous for our troops, Coveney told

Varadkar and Sherlock shoot down call for army to help Sierra Leone

Staff from North East Ambulance Service and the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle take part in a national exercise to test Britain's readiness for an Ebola outbreak. Reuters
Staff from North East Ambulance Service and the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle take part in a national exercise to test Britain's readiness for an Ebola outbreak. Reuters

John Drennan, Joanna Kiernan and Jim Cusack

DEFENCE Minister Simon Coveney raised the possibility of Irish troops being sent to West Africa to help halt the spread of Ebola, the Sunday Independent has learned.

But Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Junior Minister Sean Sherlock shot down suggestions of an Irish mission to Sierra Leone which arose last week at a Government Emergency Planning Committee meeting.

The revelation comes as frontline medical staff say the Irish health system could not cope with an Ebola outbreak.

"We have an overcrowded and over-capacity hospital system as it stands," Phil Ní Sheaghdha of Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said.

Mr Coveney raised the issue of Irish troops going to Africa in the context of the plea for international assistance by the UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-Moon. An aid agency had also raised the issue with Mr Coveney.

Defence Forces sources say our military have undergone advanced training and have the equipment to deal with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) contamination.

Since the 9/11 attacks on New York, CBRN equipment and training have been upgraded. Some 4,000 full-body protective suits and 13,500 respirators have been stockpiled - one of every member of the Defence Forces.

Sean Sherlock, who has just returned from Sierra Leone, and Minister Leo Varadkar ''vociferously opposed" suggestions of an Irish Army mission.

"Sean Sherlock said the plan was a non-runner. He suggested the chaotic state of Sierra Leone meant the health of Irish soldiers could not be guaranteed," a source said.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) say the HSE must do more than "simply issue guidelines". The HSE said preparedness plans are underway, including arrangements for distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to all frontline staff.

If a case of Ebola is diagnosed here, the patient would be taken to the National Isolation Unit (NIU) at the Mater by ambulance with Garda escort. The HSE say Ireland's National Virus Laboratory is "fully equipped to diagnose Ebola". Ireland has three consultants for infectious diseases, on call 24/7.

The HSE cleared a cargo ship on Thursday, which travelled from Ebola hotspot Freetown in Sierra Leone, to dock in Dublin Port during the early hours of Friday morning. The 200m vessel is one of a fleet owned by an international shipping company, whose vessels travel between West Africa and a number of ports in Europe every six weeks. The ship in question left Dublin on Friday night.

Sunday Independent

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