Coronavirus: New case in east of Ireland brings total to 19

HSE says there will be ‘no barriers’ to health recruitment in response to outbreak

Staff at some Irish hospitals are expected to be trained in order to provide regional coronavirus testing facilities. Photograph: Thomas Sampson/AFP via Getty Images.

Staff at some Irish hospitals are expected to be trained in order to provide regional coronavirus testing facilities. Photograph: Thomas Sampson/AFP via Getty Images.

 

The number of confirmed coronavirus (Covid-19) cases in the State has risen to 19, after the virus was identified in a male in the east of Ireland on Saturday.

The National Public Health Emergency Team said the Health Protection Surveillance Centre had been informed of the latest case, which was associated with travel from northern Italy, the part of Europe that has been hardest hit by the virus.

“The HSE is working rapidly to identify any contacts the patient may have had, to provide them with information and advice to prevent further spread,” it said in a statement.

The emergency team met on Saturday to consider guidance from an expert advisory group on managing healthcare workers who are in close contact with confirmed cases of the virus.

It said it had decided to accept the advice, which was provided in response to the recent diagnosis of Covid-19 in a patient hospitalised at Cork University Hospital. The patient had a significant number of close contacts with healthcare workers and Dr Cillian de Gascun, chairwoman of the advisory group, said there was “a risk to patients of acquiring Covid-19 from an exposed healthcare worker”.

The advice noted that if a health facility cannot be staffed safely to provide critical services, those who have had close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus and have developed symptoms should be excluded from work.

Essential workers

It added that staff who have not developed symptoms, and are deemed essential workers, may continue to work provided they observe infection prevention and control precautions, and undergo active monitoring twice daily for 14 days after contact with a confirmed case.

Under current coronavirus response plans, it is expected that patients with mild symptoms will recover in isolation in the community, rather than in hospital, where all cases are being treated at present.

Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer in the Department of Health, said coronavirus creates a risk to patient care in two ways: “The risk of transmission from an infected health care worker; and the risk of serious impact on patient care by loss of significant numbers of essential staff.”

He said the expert group’s guidance would “be implemented in Cork University Hospital and Limerick Hospital immediately” and that Health Service Executive senior management was meeting with staff in the affected hospitals, offering guidance.

The HSE on Saturday said there would be “no barriers” to the recruitment of health service staff needed to work in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

A HSE spokeswoman said the organisation was also “expediting all other avenues” in terms of those on panels and awaiting appointment and that those who have left the service for reasons of retirement, career break, secondments were also being identified and contacted.

“The HSE will ensure that every method of engaging staff that are required for managing services at this time are maximised and we will not fall short in this regard,” she added. “The efforts of all our staff and stakeholders at this time is fully acknowledged.”

‘Much earlier’

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, general secretary of Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, told RTÉ radio that the move was welcome “but it should have happened much earlier”.

The National Maternity Hospital, on Dublin’s Holles Street, said it had applied visitor restrictions due to concerns about potential spread of the virus.

“The only visiting permitted is the birth partner of the pregnant woman or mother attending [no children] and the parents of a baby in NICU [neonatal intensive care unit] unless exceptional circumstances,” said the hospital on Saturday.

Hospitals in Cork and the midwest, and Dublin’s Mater hospital, where cases are being treated, have also introduced visitor restrictions and many elective surgeries have been cancelled. Private nursing homes across the State have also restricted visiting to minimise risk to “vulnerable” older residents.

Staff at some Irish hospitals are expected to be trained in order to provide regional coronavirus testing facilities. The National Virus Reference Laboratory in University College Dublin processes all tests.

Other health service staff are to be drafted in to assist the 60 or so public health professionals who specialise in tracing contacts of people with infectious diseases. The requirement for contact tracing has escalated hugely since the number of cases grew in recent days.

International data shows four out of every five people who get the disease suffer mild symptoms. The number of people infected with coronavirus has passed 102,000 globally, the World Health Organisation said on Saturday.

Cruise ship

It emerged on Saturday that at least four Irish people are among some 3,500 people on a cruise ship called the Grand Princess that has been stranded off the California coast due to the coronavirus. At least 20 people on board have tested positive for the virus.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha also criticised the decision to go ahead with big St Patrick’s Day celebrations around the country over coming weeks, warning it would “put too much strain on our public health service.”

“After any mass gathering our hospitals and A&E departments are overwhelmed,” she said. “We know this, we know not just from the point of view of the coronavirus but for general activity at mass gatherings.”

While a number of Irish embassies worldwide have cancelled celebrations, the Government has said there are no plans as yet to postpone the major St Patrick’s Day events in the State.

However, organisers of St Patrick’s Day parades in the Co Cork towns of Youghal, Cobh and Midleton have announced they will cancel their event this year.

Meanwhile, testing of patients in Northern Ireland has resulted in three new presumptive positive results for coronavirus, bringing the total to seven since testing began.

Further positive tests had been expected and the advice to the public remains unchanged. Northern Ireland is still in the containment phase, according to the Department of Health.

The latest three cases are all adults who had recently travelled from Italy and are linked to a previously confirmed positive case.