There is confidence “but not certainty” that containment measures will be successful in stopping coronavirus from spreading within this countryto the rest of community, the chief medical officer of the Department of Health, Dr Tony Holohan has said.
Even if there was a small number of cases, Dr Holohan believes Ireland will be as successful as other European countries in containing the virus.
“If a case was to get through, it wouldn’t mean that our system had failed. We are expecting to see cases,” he told reporters a media briefing.
An Irish couple who were on a cruise ship where there was an outbreak of the coronavirus returned home last weekend and it later emerged they were not screened on entry to the country.
They had been among a group of nine Irish nationals on the Westerdam cruise ship currently docked off Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
Dr Holohan said Ireland did not have entry screening because it would be useless and a waste of resources to test people who were asymptomatic. However, anyone identified as a risk would be assessed.
He stressed that measures taken by public health authorities were working.
“Up to last Monday there were 78 people who fell within the case definition, but all tested negative for the virus,” he said.
“If somebody is a suspect case and meets the case definition as a result of their exposure, that’s what guides our decision-making.
“Our screening depends on people having the information, coming to the authorities and self-declaring and being guided from there.”
Dr Holohan said the 78 suspected cases were all managed in a hospital environment, not because they were ill but for the purpose of putting strong infection control procedures that limited the likelihood of the disease being passed on to anybody else.He said there would be a “higher number” of people in self-isolation in the community.
“Not every close contact is going to have symptoms that will result in a test. It is not a number that we will track.”
Earlier yesterday, experts insisted there is no need for panic in Ireland about the Covid-19 coronavirus.
Kingston Mills, professor of experimental immunology at Trinity College Dublin and emergency medicine consultant Dr Chris Luke both said the HSE has the correct measures in place.
“Let there be no panic,” Dr Luke said on RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Séan O’Rourke.
“Self-isolation is the ideal way to deal with the situation in Ireland. Too many people come into A&E [accident and hospital emergency departments] with minor illnesses.”
Dr Luke was commenting on reports that an Irish couple who were on a cruise ship where there was an outbreak of the coronavirus had returned to Ireland and were in self-isolation.
They had been among a group of nine Irish nationals in total aboard the Westerdam cruise ship, which is currently docked off Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
Two of them returned home to Ireland last weekend but it later emerged they had not been screened on entry into the country - leading to fears about the spread of the virus here.
To date, a total of six Irish people have been repatriated from Wuhan City in the past three weeks.
A couple who were on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama tested positive and were currently being treated in a military hospital in Tokyo. There were four other Irish nationals stuck on board, including two crew. One of the couples is believed to be from Meath.
“It’s vital that people don’t come to A&E,” said Dr Luke. “The majority of illnesses like this are best treated at home.”
Prof Mills agreed self-isolation, with the support of a GP and the HSE, was the best way of stopping the spread of the virus. “It was unfortunate that two other Irish people were being treated for the virus in Japan,” he said.
“But that does not change anything for people in Ireland.”
He said that to date there were no cases in Ireland, but due to because of the nature of international travel “it would be very difficult to stop the virus coming here”.And he added: “It’s almost inevitable there will be two to three cases, but it’s not going to suddenly spread to the whole community.
“On average the spread is to 2.2 people.
“If measures are taken to isolate these people then it will be minimized.”Dr Luke pointed out that the Sars virus in Canada had eventually been halted by the use of security guards at emergency departments to stop people going in and out.
Ireland is very well prepared as training for ebola and Sars had put procedures in place, he said.
Professor Mills said that Ireland cannot be complacent, but that there was no need for panic as the right procedures were in place.
Both experts predicted that a vaccine will be available in the coming months, but will first have to be tested and trialed.
Although nobody has so far been tested positive in Ireland, a total of 5,216 people have been tested, of which 5,207 were confirmed negative and 9 positives.