Coronavirus: Irish citizens advised not to travel to Italy’s affected areas

Harris says chances of case in Ireland has ‘significantly increased’ in light of Italian outbreak

Almost a dozen towns in northern Italy are on lockdown as the worst coronavirus outbreak in Europe surpasses 100 and continues to grow. Video: Reuters


Irish citizens have been advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs not to travel to areas of Italy affected by a coronavirus outbreak.

In revised travel advice issued on Monday, the department notes the increase in the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Italy, and the restriction imposed by the Italian authorities in specific parts of the north of the country.

The department says travellers, in order to ascertain whether their destination in Italy is in an affected area, should consult the government website of the region in question or, if they are in Italy, call 1500.

The advice follows news of six deaths in Italy and the first major travel restrictions to be imposed in Europe. Northern Italy has seen more than 50,000 people in a number of towns in the Veneto and Lombardy regions quarantined. Italian officials have cancelled sporting events, closed schools and businesses and cut short the Venice carnival. Italian officials have cancelled sporting events, closed schools and businesses and cut short the Venice carnival.


Case in Ireland

The chances of a coronavirus case occurring in Ireland have “significantly increased” in light of the Italian outbreak with the State now preparing for the likelihood that there “could well be a case in Ireland in the coming days and weeks”, Minister for Health Simon Harris said on Monday.

Mr Harris’s comments followed a special meeting of the national public health emergency team on Sunday night in relation to the spread of the virus in Europe.

He said a number of his department officials were taking part in European level meetings on Monday while the national public health emergency team would meet again on Tuesday.

Isolation facilities have been made available by the HSE in all hospitals while the necessary additional funding will be provided if a case does occur, he added.

Reviews of mass gatherings are also set to take place in the coming days, particularly the Ireland-Italy Six Nations rugby match, which is scheduled to take place in Dublin’s Aviva stadium on March 7th, the Minister said.

Asked whether there were plans to cancel St Patrick’s Day events in March, Mr Harris said all mass gatherings were being kept under review but there were no plans to cancel events yet.

“The rugby game is something that needs considerable consideration,” he said. “This situation is evolving. The weekend’s activities have shown that there is still an awful lot unknown about the coronavirus and about the path it might take.”

In relation to possible airport screenings, Mr Harris said public health doctors were “working around the clock” on the issue while Ireland was following World Health Organisation and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and control for guidelines and advice.

It’s important that the EU responds to the health emergency in a “uniform way” to avoid mass confusion, said Mr Harris.

“Any action Ireland takes will be based on health evidence as opposed to being seen to be doing something for the sake of doing something.”

He urged any person who had become unwell after coming into contact with anyone with coronavirus or who had recently been in a region affected by the virus to contact their GP by phone. The ECDC convenes an emergency meeting this afternoon.

Carabinieri officers stand guard outside the town of Castiglione D’Adda, which has been closed by the Italian government due to a coronavirus outbreak. Photograph: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters
Carabinieri officers stand guard outside the town of Castiglione D’Adda, which has been closed by the Italian government due to a coronavirus outbreak. Photograph: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

‘Well prepared’

Earlier on Monday, the Department of Health’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said Ireland is well prepared for the coronavirus.

“We’ve been working for a number of weeks now since this began, to put in place the arrangements we have that have helped us to prepare our system to identify cases at an early stage . . . Were a case to arise, and no cases have occurred in this country as yet, measures will be put in place to stop the spread to other people,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.

Meanwhile two Irish citizens have arrived at a quarantine block near Liverpool in England after being evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship moored off Japan. They were among a group of 32 people – the rest of whom are British nationals – who arrived at the centre on Saturday. Four of the group have tested positive for coronavirus, according to British officials.

It is understood that a number of secondary schools across Ireland have decided to cancel school trips to Italy in light of the latest travel advice.

Alexandra College in Dublin confirmed it had cancelled the school’s annual trip for transition year students to Italy after a teacher, who organised the trip and is from Italy, consulted with local Italian authorities.

Tourists wearing protective facemasks visit the Piazza San Marco, in Venice, on Monday during the usual period of the Carnival festivities which the last two days have been cancelled due to an outbreak of the COVID-19. Photograph: (Andrea Pattaro/AFP via Getty Images)
Tourists wearing protective facemasks on Monday in the Piazza San Marco in Venice. Photograph: (Andrea Pattaro/AFP via Getty Images)


Irish holiday makers are also reportedly cancelling trips to Italy. In some cases these included bookings for holidays that are not due to take place until the summer.

One reader recalled how three travellers chose to leave their Aer Lingus flight to Milan shortly before it took off on Saturday because of coronavirus fears.

There was no announcement by the airline, “but the couple in front of me, who were consulting their phones, asked to speak to the air steward”, said Aoife, a passenger on the flight who preferred not to give her surname.

“She handled it very discreetly, sat down beside them for a chat, then they left the aircraft before the doors were shut.” A third person followed after consulting with the steward.

“On arrival in Italy, a machine manned by medical staff scanned us for temperature - they have been doing that in Milan for 10 days or more,” Aoife said.

One Irish man who spoke on RTÉ’s Liveline programme was surprised to discover immigration officials in Dublin airport were not wearing face masks upon his arrival back in Ireland from South Korea at the weekend.

He said he contacted the HSE after discovering that some of his colleagues at the institute where he works in South Korea had been diagnosed with the coronavirus. He spoke with a HSE medical professional on the phone who assured him that he should be ok as he did not have “prolonged contact” with those infected.

“I feel like I’m in limbo, I don’t know what I should do for the next week or two,” he said, adding that he was concerned about vulnerable family members with compromised immune systems.

Two women wearing a protective facemask walk across the Piazza del Duomo, in front of the Duomo, in central Milan on Monday. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images
Two women wearing protective facemasks walk across the Piazza del Duomo in central Milan on Monday. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

Cases mount

Across the world, the number of cases of the virus, Covid-19, has begun to mount. South Korea went on high alert after the number of infections surged over 600, with six deaths. Iran has reported 43 cases, with eight deaths. However, in China which has seen the vast majority of cases, authorities reported 648 new infections – higher than a day earlier – but only 18 were outside of Hubei province, the lowest number outside the epicentre since authorities began publishing data a month ago and locked down large parts of the country.

China has now relaxed restrictions on movements in several places. The virus has killed 2,442 people in China, which has reported 76,936 cases, and has cut growth in the world’s second-largest economy.