Ireland is prepared to stop coronavirus being passed on to the rest of the population, says the Department of Health chief medical officer.
“We know what to do,” said Dr Tony Holohan.
Ireland is currently in a “containment phase” with all efforts directed at picking up a case as early as possible and putting good quality control measures in place.
The next level is mitigation, where it is no longer to control the spread of the virus. If there is a large number of cases the focus would switch from picking up every case to prevent transmission to ensuring help is there for those most severely affected.
Dr Holohan said Ireland is following World Health Organisation guidelines and no cases have been confirmed in Ireland. However, point of entry screening at airports is not being recommended because it is largely inefficient.
Dr Holohan said screening could be used if a particularly high-risk situation was identified. He also said there are no plans to have people who might have been exposed to the virus put in quarantine. People would be advised to go into self-isolation and follow the advice of public health officials.
HSE national clinical advisory and acute hospital group lead, Dr Vida Hamilton, said the health authority has set up a communications network with GPs.
Dr Hamilton said individuals who may have had close contact with an infected person would be asked, within reason, to restrict their movements. If they become symptomatic they are asked to phone their doctor.
She said: “An asymptomatic individual is not considered an at-risk individual."
Dr Hamilton said hospitalised cases would be managed either in individual isolation rooms or grouped in wards if there was a large number. Plans on how to deal with cases are being updated to reflect the knowledge of the virus.
Chairman of the coronavirus expert advisory group, Dr Cillian De Gascun, said there is no “definitive evidence” that people could transmit the virus while asymptomatic.
There have been 15 suspected cases of coronavirus tested in the National Virus Reference Laboratory but, to date, there have been no confirmed cases.
“If you want to be optimistic the number of new cases reported every day in China seems to be declining,” he said.
Dr De Gascun said it is hoped that the number of cases will begin to “plateau” in the next couple of weeks. If that does not happen it would suggest that the containment measures imposed by Chinese authorities, through no fault of their own, are unsuccessful.
“Until we see sustained person-to-person transmission in other areas, I think we are reasonably confident that containment measures will work.”
Dr Hamilton said 3,000 personal protection packs have been issued to GPs and clinics around the country and will be received in the coming days.
The WHO warns that the world is running out of protective equipment amid a surge in demand from efforts to curb the spread of the virus, which has so far resulted in more than 600 deaths. But Dr Holohan said Ireland has “substantial supplies” of personal protection equipment and that the HSE is considering measures to ensure a continuing supply.
If supplies become “pressurised”, countries will work together in ensuring that they continue to be available.
Dr Hamilton said coronavirus is spread through contact and droplets so good cough and sneeze-hygiene with regular handwashing is the best way to keep well.
It is now believed that the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China could have spread from bats to humans through the illegal traffic of pangolins, the world’s only scaly mammals, which are prized in Asia for food and medicine.
The pangolin is one of Asia’s most trafficked mammals, although protected by international law, because its meat is considered a delicacy in countries such as China and its scales are used in traditional medicine.