Ireland is ramping up its preparations against Ebola, the health minister Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar stressed there was no reason to believe emergency departments would be swamped with cases of the killer disease or could not handle a spread of the outbreak.
But he warned that the virus was escalating and there was a low risk of infections here – most likely from people returning from the worst affected countries in west Africa.
“It’s reasonable that health care workers will be concerned about the risk of transmission to them of infections as virulent as Ebola,” he told an emergency meeting on the disease.
“Though it is unlikely, it is possible and we have seen already a number of health care workers being infected in Spain and Texas.
“For this reason we now need to step our preparedness.”
Training among medics and healthcare workers is to be stepped up, more “dry runs” for potential confirmed cases will be carried out, while further specialist equipment will be despatched.
Mr Varadkar said an emergency taskforce of Government ministers met two weeks ago about fears over the spread of Ebola.
But it was not publicised at the time in case it would “unnecessarily heighten concerns”, he told a parliamentary watchdog.
The taskforce will be meeting again.
There have been 12 suspected Ebola cases in Ireland – including the death of a man in Donegal who had returned from Sierra Leone during the summer – but all turned out to be clear from the disease.
Mr Varadkar said the likely scenario of any spread of the deadly virus to Ireland would be one or two confirmed cases, likely from people returning from Sierra Leone, Guinea or Liberia.
There are currently 54 Irish citizens in those three countries, and they are being monitored by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Questioned by the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, Mr Varadkar said there have been dry runs in some hospitals for a confirmed Ebola case but not in all.
These are to be completed in the coming weeks.
Irish aid workers in west Africa have been “well briefed” on what to do if returning and have been ordered to contact public health officials.
Health chiefs are considering putting together a specialist team that can go into hospitals if there is a confirmed case.
The health minister said there were also 5,000 Ebola kits issued to GPs and out-of-hours services around the country, but admitted he was not 100% sure every practice has the necessary equipment.
“I am satisfied that we are ready, but the situation is escalating and we need to escalate our response,” he said.