Northern Ireland news

Coronavirus: Self-isolation advice extended to people returning from northern Italy

Italy has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe
Digital staff and PA

Travellers returning to Northern Ireland from northern Italy should self-isolate as part of measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.

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 this morning updated official advice to say that those who have been to northern Italy - north of Pisa - should self-isolate if they have flu-like symptoms.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "If people have been to the affected areas that the Italian government have quarantined then they should self-isolate whether or not they have symptoms."

However, there were no changes to travel advice about going to Italy from the UK - despite the Irish government advising to avoid 'hotspot' areas.

He added: "In terms of going to Italy as a whole we haven't changed that travel advice.

"But we are clear that, if you come back from northern Italy and you have symptoms, then you should self-isolate."

The updated advice said people returning from Iran, lockdown areas of northern Italy, special care zones in South Korea, and Hubei province in China since February 19 should call NHS 111, stay indoors and avoid contact with other people even if they do not have symptoms.

People returning from north of Pisa and Florence in Italy, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma (Myanmar) from the same date who develop symptoms should stay at home, avoid contact with other people and also call NHS 111.

In Scotland people could be banned from gathering in large numbers to contain cornonavirus, Scotland's Chief Medical Officer has said.

The new travel advice comes as World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus warned that, while the spread of the virus around the world is not yet at pandemic stage, it has the potential to become one.

In Italy, where 229 people have tested positive for the virus and seven have died, police have manned checkpoints around a dozen quarantined northern towns.

Schools were closed, theatre performances cancelled, and Venice Carnival celebrations were called off, while producers said filming on the latest Mission: Impossible movie starring Tom Cruise has been halted.

An Ulster rugby match scheduled to take place this weekend in Italy 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.

Read More: Coronavirus - Shaking hands still permitted for 'sign of peace' in Down and Connor Masses

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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