Coronavirus: HSE concerned over differing cross-Border approach

Health service seeks clarity on protocols as UK approach to threat deviates from EU

A divergence in the approach to handling a potential outbreak of coronavirus on either side of the Border is causing concern within the health service.

The UK on Thursday issued new travel advice warning its citizens to report flu-like symptoms if flying back from any of nine Asian countries. The fresh strategy came as a third British coronavirus case was found in a passenger coming from Singapore who had not been in China.

Existing advice in the Republic, based on guidance from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, is limited to travellers returning from China alone.

Britain's approach, one that differs from its European neighbours, presents Ireland with a major challenge in a post-Brexit scenario.


Travel controls

The challenge of protecting against coronavirus could rise even further should the UK further tighten travel controls. British authorities are coming under increasing pressure to ban travellers from China, for example, a move that could see an increase in people travelling from Asia through Dublin Airport.

Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid has sought clarification from the Department of Health on the policies that would apply on both sides of the Border in the event of cases occurring in Ireland.

The HSE is particularly anxious to have clarified the arrangements that would apply in areas where cross-Border co-operation in health is well-established, such as between Co Donegal and Altnagelvin hospital in Co Derry.

“Imagine the challenge of tracing the contacts of a confirmed case in the Border area, with one set of rules in the North and another down here,” one health source said.

Reported cases

The number of reported cases rose on Friday to 31,503, the vast majority in China, with 29 cases in the EU and UK. The outbreak has caused 638 deaths.

The Department of Health's chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said Ireland was "in the hands of" the World Health Organisation and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and would not arrive at a conclusion that was "at odds" with the stance of the two organisations.

There have been more than 30 suspected cases of the virus in Ireland to date; all tested negative. Those tested include a number of children.

Out-of-hours and on-call doctors have been supplied with protective equipment, including masks and gowns, while supplies will reach regular GPs next week, according to the HSE.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.