Virus expert: Policymakers will have to make difficult decisions about coronavirus

Virus expert: Policymakers will have to make difficult decisions about coronavirus

A flu virus expert has said that policymakers will have difficult decisions to make in relation to Covid-19 in the coming weeks.

Dr Kim Roberts, influenza virus researcher and Assistant Professor of Virology at Trinity College Dublin, told Newstalk Breakfast that the country should expect more cases of the coronavirus.

Her comment came as a second case of the virus was confirmed in the east of the country. The patient is a woman who recently travelled back from Italy. This case is not associated with the previously identified case.

“It was always a case that we would have another, we should expect more, in some other countries the numbers infected with the virus are going up, and quite quickly,” Dr Roberts said.

“There is a balance that needs to be struck especially early on in an outbreak within a country, to make sure that information gets across in a way that can be absorbed and not create fear and panic.

“But we do need to explain to people that this situation is changing and that in all likelihood we will see more cases in Ireland, we will see clusters of cases probably within family groups, that's what's happening in other countries as well and we may see evidence of community transmission.

If we can act swiftly and decisively with identified cases, with identified people infected with this virus and they self-isolate and take that self-isolation seriously, we can reduce the spread.

“We can slow down the transmission so that our health services are not overstretched and that's one of the key things. There's a lot of discussion about how serious this situation is, we can't give specifics about how many numbers it's going to affect, we can only give the data - what the data is suggesting, but we do need to take it seriously.

“Policymakers have difficult decisions to make, I think we should expect that policy will change swiftly over the next few weeks, depending on what the evidence is saying about community transmission in Ireland and the UK.”

Department of Health officials, who said last night that they expect the number of isolated confirmed cases will increase further, were informed around 6pm of the second case.

Department of Health chief medical officer Tony Holohan later told reporters: “We’re confirming Ireland has diagnosed one new case of Covid-19.

“The case arises in a female in the east of the country and is associated with travel from northern Italy. We have now 397 people in total who have been tested as of Monday, March 2.”

The chair of the government’s coronavirus advisory group, Dr Cillian de Gascun said that there is still no evidence of community transmission of the coronavirus in Ireland, but he warned that it is a rapidly evolving situation.

Dr de Gascun told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that two weeks ago there were only three cases in Italy, but in the space of 11 days, this had risen to 2,000.

If Ireland were to see a similar rise in cases then plans would have to change, he said. The Irish hospital system is “as prepared as it can be”, but it is under pressure. However, he acknowledged that the “significant containment” efforts by China had helped give other countries time to plan and prepare.

On the same programme, Tony Fitzpatrick of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) pointed out that the Irish health system is already under pressure and that it has been known since 2008 that there are not enough intensive care beds in the country.

The health care system struggles every day. It is vital for Ireland to protect front line workers, the public and the economy.

“Italy two weeks ago was at the same stage where we are, the situation here could change significantly in the next two weeks,” he warned.

What the HSE is doing at the moment is good, he said. “Everyone has a role to play.”

If the virus were to spread it would put significant pressure on the health system. HSE plans and algorithms in place to contain the virus are robust, he said, but the fact remained that there are not enough vital care beds or equipment.

Mr Fitzpatrick claimed that the HSE’s hiring practices meant there were ICU beds and units that could not be used because vacant posts had not been filled. “A nurse is no good waiting for a start date, they should be working.”

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