Coronavirus: What we know so far about how Ireland is affected

One confirmed case of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland but none in Republic so far

Passengers wearing protective face masks arrive at the Hongqiao railway station in Shanghai. Photograph: Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

Passengers wearing protective face masks arrive at the Hongqiao railway station in Shanghai. Photograph: Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

 

Have there been any cases here so far?

One case was confirmed in Northern Ireland on Thursday evening. The patient travelled from Italy through the Republic and into Northern Ireland.

The Department of Health has said that more than 100 people have been tested for coronavirus in the Republic so far and all results have come back negative.

What about Irish people abroad? Especially those who may be returning?

Two Irish-German passengers who were on board the Princess Diamond cruise ship docked off Yokohama, Japan, tested positive for the coronavirus. They are not normally resident in Ireland are being treated in hospital in Japan.

Elsewhere, a hotel on the island of Tenerife was placed under quarantine when an Italian doctor staying there tested positive for the coronavirus. The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs is providing consular assistance to a number of Irish citizens in the area.

Two other Irish citizens were quarantined in Liverpool in England after being evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship moored off Japan. Both subsequently left quarantine and reported they were healthy and safe.

But does all this mean we should avoid overseas travel?

The Department of Foreign Affairs has advised against all non-essential travel to China, and against all travel to the Chinese province of Hubei.

It has also advised Irish citizens not to travel to Japan, Hong Kong, Iran, Singapore, South Korea, as well as four regions in northern Italy where restrictions have been imposed, and which have direct flights with Ireland.

What if I’ve recently been to an affected area?

Anyone who has been to an affected region (mainland China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Iran and four regions in northern Italy) in the last 14 days and is experiencing symptoms should self-isolate and call their GP.

The same applies to anyone who has been in close contact with a confirmed case of the virus in the last 14 days and is experiencing symptoms. Anyone who has been to an affected region in the last 14 days, and are well, should visit hse.ie for advice.

So is this going to mess a lot of people’s holiday plans up?

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.

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. Travel agents have also said that, for now, Irish people are stalling on making bookings.

Is that affecting airlines? And what about other businesses, and our tourism industry?

The airlines are feeling the pinch alright. Earlier this week, investors began ditching stocks that they believed were vulnerable to a European outbreak. One of the biggest was Ryanair, whose shares tumbled 13.4 per cent in Dublin.

Ryanair says all its flights are operating as normal but added that it would follow any public health instructions that were issued. The same is true of Aer Lingus.

Elsewhere, Junayeo Air confirmed last week that it had decided to postpone the scheduled launch of its proposed Dublin-Shanghai service on March 29th until further notice.

It’s not just the airlines either. Many Irish companies have operations in affected regions or depend on them for supply lines, and they are also dealing with some of the fallout. For example, one of our biggest companies, Kerry Group, said sales in China are set to fall by about 30 per cent in the first quarter of the year.

What are we going to do about citizens from affected regions coming here?

The DAA, which operates Dublin Airport, has said it is currently “business as usual” at the airport with flights from affected regions landing as normal.

The Government is doing what it can to limit mass influxes from affected regions. The surge in cases in Italy has forced the cancellation of Ulster’s Pro14 rugby game against Benetton in Treviso due to take place on Saturday.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has also called for the Ireland’s Six Nations rugby match against Italy on March 7th to be called off. Minister for Sport Shane Ross has said more sporting fixtures could be cancelled if necessary to prevent the spread.

Could we not just screen people as they arrive in Ireland?

No. Entry screening for Covid-19 “doesn’t work, wouldn’t work” and would be a “waste of resources”, the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has said.

Fair enough. Can expect other big events, like the St Patrick’s Day Festival, to follow suit then?

The cancellation of mass gatherings, such as large conferences with a significant number of participants from a highly affected area, “may be justified in exceptional circumstances” according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Decisions to cancel however will be co-ordinated with organisers and public health authorities on a case-by-case basis. But it’s possible we will see more major events cancelled.

What about schools?

During a containment phase, school closures “are not justified”, the European Centre for Disease Control said.

“There is also no data to support informed decisions on proactive school closures in terms of their anticipated effectiveness in mitigating the ... epidemic, due to the unknown level of transmission of this virus among children.”

However, should transmission of the virus become widespread, school closures “may be necessary”, even though they probably would not reduce the impact of the epidemic. For now though, it seems unlikely.

What are the chances of someone testing positive for the virus here and what happens then?

Harris has said the outbreak in Italy and in neighbouring countries means the chances of an Irish case in the coming days or weeks has increased significantly.

He has designated the virus as a notifiable disease, which means doctors will be obliged to routinely notify the HSE when a case is diagnosed.

The Department of Health is also understood to be looking at bringing the condition under legislation that would allow for a person with the virus to be detained and isolated.

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