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No comment from health chiefs on coronavirus reports

Daisy Hill hospital in Newry
Seanín Graham and Seamus McKinney

HEALTH chiefs last night refused to comment on reports that a patient was being tested in a Co Down hospital for the coronavirus.

A spokesman for the Public Health Agency (PHA) said it was only providing information on those who tested positive for the virus and could not respond to queries about a suspected case at Daisy Hill hospital in Newry.

The PHA spokeman cited "patient confidentiality" as the main reason for being unable to disclose details.

The Department of Health subsequently released a statement in which they said it was "inevitable" that a "number of people" will be tested on a precautionary basis "in the weeks ahead".

"We would like to again assure the public that plans are in place to deal with a positive test for Coronavirus in Northern Ireland when it occurs," a spokesman said.

"...it is important to keep these tests in perspective. A test does not mean that a positive result is expected or likely."

The development comes as a full quarantine operation was launched at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry on Thursday night after a woman and her baby boy presented with symptoms similar to the virus.

It is believed the pair had recently returned to the city after visiting Hong Kong.

The hospital followed an emergency protocol and by lunchtime yesterday all services at the hospital were functioning as normal, with the mother and son testing negative.

Almost 30,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed globally since the strain first came to light in the Wuhan area of China, leading to 565 deaths. Three cases have been confirmed in the UK, including one British national.

A total of 566 tests have been carried out across the UK. Early symptoms of coronavirus are similar to a number of other illnesses, such as flu, and include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.

Different precautionary measures have been used as part of the testing, including health professionals wearing protective clothing.

The department spokesman said the use of protective clothing should "not be taken as an indication that a positive test is expected".

He added: "Northern Ireland health authorities do not intend to comment publicly on each case where a person is being tested. There are patient confidentiality issues to consider, particularly when small numbers of people are involved. There is also a need to avoid undue alarm or speculation. This situation will be kept under review.

"When a positive test for coronavirus occurs in Northern Ireland, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, will make a statement confirming the result and reiterating advice to the general public.

"While there can be no room for complacency, it is important to stress that NI's health service is well-prepared and used to managing infections. We are working and liaising closely with colleagues in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland and that co-operation will continue."

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