Department of Health considering legal changes to forcibly isolate people with coronavirus

Department of Health considering legal changes to forcibly isolate people with coronavirus
HSE assistant national director of child and public health, Dr Kevin Kelleher.

Legal changes to forcibly isolate people with coronavirus are being urgently considered by the Department of Health.

There are laws to quarantine people with other infectious diseases and they could be used, a senior health official said.

HSE assistant national director of child and public health, Dr Kevin Kelleher, said they have ways of compelling people to do "certain things."

Dr Kelleher said public health officials had significant powers to forcibly isolate people in a healthcare facility if they had diseases such as tuberculosis (TB), smallpox and cholera.

He said the Department of Health is aware of the situation and is looking at changing the law “as rapidly as possible.”

New powers have been introduced in Britain that will force people into mandatory isolation if they present a risk of spreading the disease.

Dr Kelleher said the law and regulations that apply in Ireland have a catch-all phrase — “if there is a disease of an unknown type" and that would allow them to act where someone is refusing to go into isolation.

He pointed out that previous outbreaks of new diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the zika virus led to a change in the legislation.

“On the whole, people here, and in other countries we are aware of, have been very willing to isolate themselves,” said Dr Kelleher during a HSE media briefing.

The HSE confirmed that, currently, there is no confirmed case of the disease.

“You are extremely unlikely to catch novel coronavirus from someone in Ireland, at present,” the health authority has stated.

If there is a case in Ireland in the future health professionals will contact anyone who has been in close contact with the infected person to give information and advice.

The National Virus Reference Laboratory has tested 65 people up to last Monday for the virus but all tests have been negative.

Dr Kelleher would not say if any of the suspected cases involved people who have not travelled back to Ireland from China: “We're not going to answer that question. That would take you down pathways that we are not going so we are not answering that question."

In a statement, the HSE said that its public health policy and approach in relation to COVID 19 has not changed and remains in line with recommendations from the WHO and ECDC.

"As part of enhancing our preparedness and response to COVID 19, the Department is seeking to make provision for this disease to be added to the list of notifiable disease so that doctors can routinely notify the HSE when a case is diagnosed.

"It also intends to add Covid19 to the list of infectious diseases such as smallpox, which allows a doctor to detain a probable case of infection in the highly unlikely event that a person refuses to comply with infection prevention and control protocols.

"This was also done for the SARS epidemic in 2002. It is not envisaged that such powers would in fact be used."

Meanwhile, there were 85 deaths from flu reported to the HSE's Health Protection Surveillance Centre so far this season. 70 (82%) of the people who died were aged 65 and older.

Last week, 79 people were admitted to hospital with flu, bringing the season total to 3,323. Of those hospitalised, 123 were admitted to intensive care.


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