Northern Ireland news

Coronavirus: No warnings in Northern Ireland against travel to Italy - despite Dublin government advice to avoid hotspots

Italy has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe
Seanín Graham

NORTHERN Ireland health officials have not issued warnings against travelling to Italy following the country's coronavirus outbreak - despite the Irish government advising to avoid 'hotspot' areas.

A spokesman for the north's Public Health Agency (PHA) said it was being guided on travel advice by the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which has not ruled out going to affected regions close to Milan and Venice where there is a 'lockdown' of 50,000 residents.

An Ulster rugby match scheduled to take place this weekend in Italy, however, has been postponed.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in the Republic has issued formal guidance on its website against travelling to the worst-hit Italian regions - Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia Romagna and Lazio.

Italy has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Europe, with 165 people diagnosed and six reported deaths.

Strict quarantine restrictions have been imposed with residents in 11 towns unable to leave for the next fortnight without special permission.

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Schools and businesses outside the exclusion zone have also suspended activities and museums have closed.

Bars, restaurants and discos have been ordered to shut their doors. Churches remain open but there are no Masses.

There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in Ireland.

A total of 79 people have been tested in the Republic, while 35 suspected cases have been screened in the north. All have come back negative.

The PHA travel guidance has not changed in line with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which is advising against "all travel" to Hubei Province in China, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Only essential journeys to the the rest of mainland China is advised, along with parts of South Korea.

"If you’re in China and able to leave, you should do so," the FCO state.

The situation is being kept under "constant review".

Earlier this month, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said the virus will "undoubtedly" arrive in Northern Ireland.

"I think we will inevitably see cases at some stage... It should come as no surprise when we get our our first case," he said.

While the vast majority of people who contract the respiratory virus will experience a mild illness and make a full recovery, health authorities say they cannot be complacent as the strain is so new.

Dr McBride, who is the most senior medic in the north, said it was important to stress that those with symptoms should not attend their GPs or A&E departments but instead contact authorities to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

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