Coronavirus: Aer Lingus cabin crew in self-isolation after passenger’s positive test

Sign of peace is to be suspended at Masses and holy water fonts emptied

Minister for Health Simon harris has visited Dublin Airport where he met with HSE staff providing information about the coronavirus to people as they arrive in Ireland. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

The cabin crew on an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin from northern Italy on which a woman travelled before testing positive for the coronaviurs have been placed in self-insolation for 14 days as a “precautionary measure”.

In an internal memo sent to staff, the airline confirmed the step and said it was “clearly a stressful time for the cabin crew involved and their families”.

It added that the company would continue to provide support to the crew and said it was “taking every step to protect their identity and privacy”.

The statement concluded by saying the airline would not be confirming the flight date or number.

Passengers who were in close contact with the woman who flew to Dublin before travelling on to Northern Ireland where she tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday have also been identified.

At a media briefing in Dublin on Friday, John Cuddihy, director of the State’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said those people who came into contact with the patient had been notified and those who have not been contacted have no need to be concerned.

Mr Cuddihy said people who were in “close contact” with the individual have been advised by health officials to self-isolate and will receive “active-daily monitoring” by community health doctors.

“If they develop symptoms, then that’s picked up very early and appropriate measures are then taken which means testing,” he added.

The airline has said it is “co-operating fully” with the relevant authorities “as required”.

“Aer Lingus will continue to assess the situation based on the guidance received,” a statement said.

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, would not confirm some reports yesterday the patient travelled by public transport from Dublin to Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency (PHA) said on Friday evening it has completed the contact tracing process associated with the person who tested positive for Covid-19 and those requiring appropriate advice have been provided with it.

“In addition, the agency will be moving to providing twice-weekly updates on the number of tests completed on individuals who meet the case definition. As of today, 93 tests have been completed, with 92 confirmed as negative and one as presumed positive,” it said.

A man wearing a facemask in the arrivals hall of Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport on Friday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA
A man wearing a facemask in the arrivals hall of Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport on Friday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Dr Jillian Johnston, consultant in health protection at the PHA, said: “All stages of the individual’s journey were identified and those who came into closest contact have been traced and contacted with public health advice and guidance. I would emphasise that members of the public who have travelled between Dublin and Belfast using public transport need not be concerned”.

 

Train sanitised

However, the Enterprise train that services the Dublin-to-Belfast route was sanitised overnight as a “precautionary measure”.

“We’ve had no confirmation at this time that the person travelled by Enterprise, but both Iarnród Éireann and Translink undertook a sanitising clean of the Enterprise fleet as a precautionary measure,” Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny said.

He said the company was “working internally on contingencies in the event of cases of Covid-19 in Ireland or on our services and in our workplaces”. Iarnród Éireann would “engage and be guided by the relevant health and other government agencies – including the NTA and other transport operators - to inform decisions while the Covid-19 issue continues.”

Mr Kenny encouraged customers and staff to “also follow the guidance of the HSE at all times”.

The patient is the first known case of the virus on the island of Ireland as it spreads around the world causing thousands of deaths and concern that it may spiral out of control.

Religious services

The sign of peace is to be suspended at Masses in the diocese of Down and Connor in response to the coronavirus.

The diocese includes Belfast and most of counties Antrim and Down.

On Friday advice was circulated to all clergy in the diocese outlining measures to be implemented within parishes.

According to the guidelines, holy communion should be administered into the hands only and not directly onto the tongue, and only the celebrant should receive from the chalice during Mass.

Ministers of the eucharist should wash their hands with particular care before and after distributing holy communion

Holy water fonts should be drained and not used.

Parishes have also been asked to consider providing alcohol-based hand sanitiser gels or facilities at all entrance and exit doors to the church, and to ensure the regular cleaning of surfaces such as door handles and tables.

“These measures are preventative and should not in any way raise any existing levels of concern,” the guidance stated.

The diocese said the decision had been taken in light of advice from the Public Health Agency and communication from the Irish Episcopal Conference Secretariat.

The Archdiocese of Dublin has also said if members of the congregation, religious leaders or others involved in religious services feel ill and may have Covid-19, even if their symptoms are mild, they should stay at home.

Skype

The Church of Ireland issued guidelines to all its parishes which stipulate that physical interaction during services, including the sign of peace, should be suspended. “Clergy may choose to give the congregation permission to carry out an alternative sign of peace that does not involve hand contact (eg a smile, nod or bow) if so wished,” the guidelines state.

“Shaking hands on greeting and departure at religious services/gatherings should be suspended.”

Everyone administering holy communion should wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand gel before beginning.

“Holy Communion should be administered only in one kind (bread) and placed into the hands only and not onto the tongue. Only the celebrant should drink from the chalice,” it added.

The church’s duty of care “extends to members of the clergy,” the guidelines state. “If you have influenza-type symptoms, do not call the clergy for pastoral visitation. Pastoral support for parishioners who are unable to attend church services should be provided by telephone or online (eg Skype).”

Meanwhile the list of countries hit by Covid-19, the coronavirus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, is edging towards 60 with Mexico, Belarus, Lithuania, New Zealand, Nigeria, Azerbaijan and the Netherlands reporting their first cases.

A patient diagnosed with coronavirus in England has become the first to catch the illness within the UK. Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said it was not yet clear if the virus had been passed on from somebody who had recently travelled abroad. It marked the 20th confirmed case in the UK - 18 of which were in England, one in Northern Ireland and one in Wales.

HSE staff who are activating the public awareness campaign for Covid-19 (coronavirus) in the baggage hall of Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA
HSE staff who are activating the public awareness campaign for Covid-19 (coronavirus) in the baggage hall of Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

The news came after a British man became the first UK citizen to die from coronavirus. The man, who was on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship was the sixth person from the vessel, which has been quarantined off the Japan’s coast amid the outbreak, to have died.

Director general of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said the outbreak “has pandemic potential”.

Recession

Stocks have fallen and in Italy, where the count of 650 cases is growing, hotel bookings are dropping and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has raised the possibility of recession.

Some have attempted to exploit the crisis for financial gain, with 20 people in Italy arrested for selling masks they fraudulently claimed provided complete protection from the virus. Police said they were selling them for as much as €5,000 each.

Japan’s schools are closing and the country’s Hokkaido island has declared a state of emergency, with its governor urging residents to stay at home over the weekend.

The Swiss government has banned events with more than 1,000 people, while at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, basins of holy water have been emptied amid concerns it could spread germs.

Globally, more than 85,000 people have fallen ill with Covid-19. China, though hardest hit, has seen lower numbers of new infections, with 327 additional cases reported on Friday, bringing the country’s total to 78,824. Another 44 people died there on Friday bringing the total to 2,788.

South Korea has recorded 2,337 cases, the most outside of China.

France and Germany are also seeing increases, with dozens of infections.

Contacted

The Minister for Health Simon Harris said everything that can be done from a public health point of view in Ireland to deal with the corona virus is being done.

He said protocols in place for handling a positive coronavirus case including contact tracing and links between health authorities on both sides of the border had worked very well after confirmation of a test result was received on Thursday evening.

The Minister said he wanted to give an assurance that if people had been in close contact with the person at the centre of the positive coronavirus case, they would already have been contacted by public health authorities.

He said anyone who had not been contacted did not need to be concerned.

Asked at a press conference on Friday as to why more information was not available about the person with coronavirus who had travelled through Dublin airport in recent days, Mr Harris said it was not his job to feed the curiosity of people in relation to a journey made by a patient.

“We are following best public health practice in this regard. We are protecting patient confidential and operating in accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines.”

If health authorities were concerned that people who had been in close contact with the person in Northern Ireland could not be contacted “we would have issued a public notice” .

“There is no need to refresh your Twitter feed to find out if there is a case of Covid 19 in Ireland.”

Scaled up

The head of the HSE Paul Reid said the health service was making significant preparations to deal with the virus. He said the HSE had purchased 4.5 million gloves and 5 million masks. The HSE was also looking at increasing intensive care facilities across the health system.

Minister for Health Simon Harris meets HSE staff manning the public awareness campaign for coronavirus in the baggage hall of Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA
Minister for Health Simon Harris meets HSE staff manning the public awareness campaign for coronavirus in the baggage hall of Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

It was also looking at arrangements to test people at home for the corona virus.

The Mater Hospital in Dublin was the main national ICU facility in the first instance, he said, but the HSE was also looking across the system at how ICU facilities could be scaled up.

“If we do, we would move towards our high dependency units . If it is scaled up further (we would look at) operating theatres or even private room capacity. There is plenty of scale up and we are currently looking at surge capacity should that be needed,” he said.

Mr Reid said in the last few days its call centre had dealt with about 2,500 enquiries and around 300 of those had been referred to public health authorities.

He said about 110 people had been tested for the virus so far and there had been no confirmed cases in the Republic.

Imported

Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency said on Thursday night that the patient diagnosed with coronavirus there is “receiving specialist care” and staff are working rapidly to identify any contacts the patient had with the aim of preventing further spread”.

A sample from the patient has been sent to the UK for verification but it has been described at this stage as a “presumptive positive test for coronavirus”.

The announcement was made at a briefing by the agency in Belfast on Thursday evening.

The Department of Health’s chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, on Friday said it is “likely” that another case or cases would be imported into Ireland as the virus spread.

“We’ve seen a growth in the number of countries who had importation of cases from some of the infected areas that have been identified,” Dr Holohan said. “We’ve seen over the course of the week, a number of countries appearing in countries across Europe. We anticipate that; that’s a likely situation here.”

Dr Holohan reiterated there are no confirmed cases in the Republic. With regard to the cancellation of events, he said they were working on criteria around gatherings that might “create of constitute a specific risk given their nature”.

“We don’t anticipate a situation where cancellations of mass gatherings form a significant part of our management of this,” he added.

On Friday morning, the Department of Justice and Equality confirmed that the citizenship ceremonies scheduled for the 2nd and 3rd of March in the INEC Killarney will proceed as planned.

There were fears that the ceremonies would be cancelled.