There have been 15 suspected cases of coronavirus tested in Ireland in recent days, but there have been no confirmed cases, it emerged last night.
However, the Department of Health’s chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, has warned that a confirmed case here is possible, given the increase in cases being seen internationally.
He said Ireland has comprehensive public health and emergency plans in place, and is prepared if a case is confirmed.
Dr Cillian De Gascun, who chairs the coronavirus expert advisory group, said the fact that we have not seen sustained human-to-human transmission in any other country outside China is a positive indicator for our containment measures here.
The HSE also confirmed that it has begun distributing some 3,000 personal protection packs to GPs and clinics around the country — an exercise that will take between a week to 10 days.
HSE assistant national director of public health and child health, Kevin Kelleher, said: “It is basically a gown, gloves, mask, and goggles. It is for the GP or relevant person to use if they get contacted by somebody who comes in to see them.”
Dr De Gascun, of the National Virus Reference Laboratory who tested the 15 suspect cases as of Monday, said test results are available about eight hours after a sample arrives in the lab.
Dr Kelleher said they are able to confirm within 24 to 36 hours whether or not someone has the disease.
He also said the HSE had been very careful in how they described the disease.
He said it is not “a Chinese disease” and it was very inappropriate for some people to describe it in a way to discriminate against people. He warned that it could cause people who have caught the virus not to come forward.
Asked was it inevitable that there would be cases in Ireland, Dr Kelleher said the World Health Organisation was hoping to contain the virus within China.
Countries outside of China were making sure there was no “sustained transmission” of the virus.
“All the evidence is that outside of China, particularly at the moment, there is no such sustained transmission,” said Dr Kelleher.
He said people who have returned from China and who have symptoms should get in touch with their doctor by phone as a first step.
He said clinicians would get in touch with staff in public health and they would decide what happens next.
“We are able to say that, as of lunchtime today (Thursday), there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Ireland.”
Asked about the two suspected cases in Cork and Kerry, Dr Kelleher, said they diddo not discuss individuals.
When asked if there were adequate isolation facilities in the country’s acute hospitals, Dr Kelleher said they had been working “very hard” to ensure that they were prepared to isolate patients with the disease.
Meanwhile, there have been 75 deaths from flu and 3,242 people hospitalised with the virus.