Ireland’s first cluster of coronavirus cases has been confirmed, after a family of four tested positive for the disease on Wednesday evening.
The group comprises two males and two females, and are in the west of the country. The four people are being cared for in a hospital in the west.
The latest positive tests from the National Virus Reference Laboratory bring to six the number of confirmed cases of the virus in the Republic, and nine on the island of Ireland.
As with the two previous cases in the Republic, the latest cases are linked to recent travel from northern Italy.
Two new cases of coronavirus (Covid-19) in Northern Ireland were confirmed earlier on Wednesday.
Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer with the Department of Health, said: “Tonight we can confirm there are now six cases of COVID-19 in Ireland. Contact tracing is underway for these four new cases.”
Dr Ronan Glynn, Deputy Chief Medical Officer said: “There is still no evidence of widespread or sustained community transmission in Ireland, as seen in some other EU countries.
“While we now have six confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ireland, we continue our containment efforts, central to which is that the public know what to do in the event they have symptoms.”
The development has major implications for the current containment strategy being followed by public health officials. The tracing of contacts of all four confirmed cases is likely to begin immediately, but is likely to pose a far greater challenges than in the two individual cases reported in the Republic up to now.
Separately, Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid has warned that the country is facing a potentially unprecedented health situation arising from the Covid-19 outbreak.
In a bulletin on Wednesday evening, Paul Reid said the health service, although still in a containment phase , was planning for all eventualities.
“From what we are learning, however, as we see how the virus spreads in countries across Europe and in the UK, we are facing a potentially unprecedented situation in this country and across all of our health services.
“So we must continue to be vigilant and practise good infection prevention and control measures, to protect ourselves, our patients, and our colleagues.”
One of two new cases in Northern Ireland is a student from Queen's University, Belfast who recently returned from northern Italy and who is believed to have been in contact with other students from the college.
After the North’s Minister of Health Robin Swann confirmed the two new cases, bringing the number in Northern Ireland to three, Queen’s University said it was working with the North’s Public Health Agency (PHA) to contain the virus.
Mr Swann said the two cases were not connected.
“One individual travelled from Northern Italy. The other had recent contact with a person elsewhere in the UK who had subsequently tested positive for Covid-19,” he said.
“Both patients are adults and are receiving appropriate care. Public Health Agency personnel are working rapidly to identify contacts they may have had, with the aim of preventing further spread,” he added .
“I would stress that Northern Ireland remains in containment phase,” said Mr Swann. “As I have said from the beginning it was a matter of when not if we received positive cases here in Northern Ireland.”
Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said neither patient had travelled through the Republic. “There are no implications for the Republic of Ireland,” he said.
Queen’s confirmed the coronavirus case “within the university”.
In a statement, it said: “The university is working with the Public Health Agency to ensure that anyone who has been in contact with the infected individual is identified and supported to receive medical attention if required, and to take all appropriate steps to contain any further spread of the virus and to protect the welfare of all within the university community and the wider public.
“The university remains open and is operating as normal. The university will continue to closely monitor the situation,” it added.
Queen’s said it has provided online guidance for staff and students and encouraged them to follow the latest official guidance from the PHA.
“The university’s major incident team has been convened and is putting in place the appropriate contingency measures which will be communicated to staff and students when appropriate,” it added.
While the Northern Ireland health authorities earlier said they were planning to send Covid-19 patients to England if they required further clinical treatment, Dr McBride said not all such patients would require such care.
“We have a regional infectious disease unit here in Northern Ireland and indeed we have other facilities which are able to provide appropriate treatment and care,” he added.
“We know that for the vast majority of people it will be a mild to moderate illness and they will get appropriate care based on where the appropriate place is to treat the individual. Not all cases are being transferred to high-consequence infectious disease units because it is not clinically necessary.”
He added that there was no connection between either of these two latest cases and the Northern Ireland woman who tested positive for coronavirus last week.
Dr Gerry Waldron of the PHA said the authorities were now working to trace all those the patients were in contact with. He said they were following an “established method of contact tracing” which was applied in the initial Northern Ireland case and was well under way in relation to the latest cases.
Those who were in contact with the patients would be given information and advice on what action they needed to take, added Dr Waldron.
The first confirmed case in Northern Ireland, revealed last weekend, had travelled from Italy through Dublin Airport to Belfast before testing positive.