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Coronavirus: Republic's health minister quizzed over risk to public after first case in Ireland

Minister for Health Simon Harris (second left) alongside (from left) Senior Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn, HSE Public Health Consultant Dr Sarah Doyle, and HSE Director General Paul Reid, speaks to media after meeting with HSE staff who are activating the public awareness campaign for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in the baggage hall of Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire 

The Republic's health minister has said any lack of information surrounding the first case of coronavirus in Ireland is due to the Dublin government following "best public health practice".

Simon Harris was speaking after meeting with the environmental health officers at Dublin Airport who are providing information on Covid-19 to people flying into the country.

Last night it was confirmed that a woman who had flown from northern Italy to Dublin Airport, before continuing her journey by land to Belfast - reportedly using public transport - has been diagnosed with the virus.

Those in close contact with the woman have been traced and notified, health authorities in the Republic have said.

Mr Harris said today: "We are protecting patient confidentiality and we are operating in accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines.

"So this isn't something we are doing unilaterally, this is best international practice.

"It's not my job to feed the curiosity of people in relation to a patient's journey.

"What is my job, and what is the job of people from a public health perspective, is to reassure people of this - that if you came into close contact with the person with Covid-19 you have been contacted, and you heard the HSE say that very clearly today.

"I actually think considering this was a case that only became known of last night, the fact that early this morning they were able to say anybody who came in close contact had been contacted is a real source of reassurance.

"If you have not heard from the public health authorities in the Republic or the public health authorities in Northern Ireland, you need not be concerned in relation to this case.

"That is the reassurance we are providing to people and that is the right balance in terms of protecting patient confidentiality but also providing that reassurance."

Today the Japanese Ministry of Health said a British tourist on the Diamond Princess cruise ship has died from coronavirus.
He is the first British citizen to die from the virus.

In the UK, 19 people have now been diagnosed with the illness, after Wales reported its first patient and two more sufferers were identified in England.

Mr Harris said the government in the Republic have provided the public with "categorical information".

He added: "The protocols that are in place have clearly worked in that regard.

"At the start of the first case on the island of Ireland I will always follow the advice of public health experts and doctors not, quite frankly, the advice or curiosity of somebody else."

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: "Those protocols have been updated recently in relation to Covid(-19), but they are protocols and algorithms that we have been using and operationalising for many years.

"If it's necessary to give more information in a particular instance, we are more than willing to do that and we have done that for things like measles, but there was no need to do that in this instance.

"We want to reassure people again: if you have not been contacted by someone from Public Health in the last 12 to 15 hours you can stop worrying. You have not been in contact with this case.

"That's as much reassurance we can give anybody."

Mr Harris said environmental health officers will be at all airports in the Republic from today to provide information "but also reassurance" about the virus.

Mr Harris said that public health experts have been working for months to prepare for any cases of Covid-19 in the Republic.

He urged people to get information on coronavirus from public health experts, rather than unofficial sources as he warned the public from spreading misinformation online.

Mr Harris said: "I would also make the point that it's really important people get their information from reputable public health sources.

"Certainly on my phone, I have received many messages from people saying 'X hospital is in lock-down' or videos going up on Twitter with false information.

"The World Health Organisation has identified the spread of misinformation as one of the greatest challenges in beating this virus, so it's really important we do what we should do here and listen to our public health experts."

 

 

 

Aer Lingus has confirmed that the person from Northern Ireland infected with Covid-19 travelled on the airline to Dublin airport.

In a statement the airline said: "Aer Lingus can confirm that the patient in Northern Ireland who has been diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus travelled with the airline from northern Italy to Dublin.

"Aer Lingus is co-operating fully with the HSE in relation to the Covid-19 developments and is liaising with the Department of Foreign Affairs, other government departments and the relevant authorities as required.

"Aer Lingus will continue to assess the situation based on the guidance received."

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