Sourcing equipment to protect against coronavirus a major challenge - HSE

2,000 people contact HSE helpline with concerns over virus in past week

At a media briefing in Dublin the HSE has said that there have been 90 suspected cases of Covid-19 tested here, but none have been positive for the virus. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Some 2,000 people have contacted a HSE helpline over the past week with concerns over the coronavirus, and 300 of these calls have been referred to public health doctors.

In total, public health doctors have fielded over 700 inquiries from the public, when direct calls and referrals from GPs are included.

The number of people who have been tested for the disease is now over 100, with demand beginning to surge in recent days after the list of at-risk areas for international travellers was extended.

Protective masks lie on the street outside Garibaldi hospital, as Italy’s coronavirus outbreak continues to grow, in Catania on Sicily, Italy, on Thursday. Photograph: Antonio Parrinello/Reuters
Protective masks lie on the street outside Garibaldi hospital, as Italy’s coronavirus outbreak continues to grow, in Catania on Sicily, Italy, on Thursday. Photograph: Antonio Parrinello/Reuters

HSE chief executive Paul Reid pleaded with the public to help Ireland stay in a containment phase for as long as possible in relation to the virus.

Mr Reid said procuring essential equipment to protect against the virus had been a major challenge for the health service due to “volatility” in the market but adequate stocks were available.

However, the HSE had acted early to buy 700,000 protective gowns, 4 million gloves and 1.5 million surgical masks, he said.

A coronavirus-specific page on the HSE website has attracted 142,000 visits and 725,000 page impressions, he said.

The HSE is looking at improving ICU capacity, isolation facilities, staff training and increased resources as it seeks to counter the increased threat posed by the virus, he said.

A public health presence has been established at Dublin Airport since Wednesday, he said.

HSE assistant national director Dr Kevin Kelleher said “of course, it’s possible” that coronavirus is present in Ireland, as some cases may never come to the notice of doctors.

“We want to do as many tests as possible to make sure we don’t miss any,” he stressed.


Dr Kelleher said there was no case at present for schools to close, adding that this eventuality was “not remotely spoken about” in HSE guidance documents.

Asked about the imposition of travel bans and quarantines, Dr Kelleher said the historical evidence was that such measures do not work. But he added that the evidence from China over the last few months was that this may not be the case.

“They do seem to have worked in China,” said Dr Cillian de Gascun, head of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, adding “it’s about getting the balance right between the rights of the individual and of the population”.

Mr Reid said he had three messages for the public: use the HSE website if information is needed; to practise good hand-hygiene; and to learn proper cough etiquette.

Cautioning the public against panic, he said the actions taken by the health service to date have been successful. It was important now to continue with these actions.

The HSE chief executive said he had worked in a variety of areas but had never seen a sector mobilise as well as the health service has in recent weeks.

There was good news at the briefing given by HSE officials, who said the winter flu season is officially over, as that virus has fallen below baseline levels. Some 98 deaths and 3,585 cases have been attributed to influenza this winter.

Officials said the flu was worse this winter than the previous winter but better than two years ago.

Meanwhile Minister for Health Simon Harris, in a statement, said he had spoken to Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann on the ongoing need for co-operation in preparedness for Covid-19 (coronavirus).

Speaking after the call, Mr Harris said: “We must do everything we can to remain vigilant in the event of a case of Covid-19 emerging.

“Cross border communication and co-operation is vital in that regard. Today, Minister Swann and I agreed to continue to work together in this area and to ensure our two departments continue to work closely together.”