Northern Ireland news

More openness needed by health authorities on coronavirus outbreak

During a private meeting with journalists earlier this month, the north's Chief Medical Officer warned an outbreak in the north was inevitable

JUST over a fortnight ago, the cream of Northern Ireland's most senior public heath officials held their first ever briefing on the coronavirus outbreak.

Until that point, information was scant - with a refusal by those handling the emerging crisis to even disclose the number of people being tested in the north's hospitals due to "patient confidentiality".

During that private meeting with journalists, the north's Chief Medical Officer warned an outbreak in the north was inevitable.

He said they needed media assistance in getting "messages out" to those with suspected symptoms about being responsible - and not to "go running" to GPs or hospitals but instead contact authorities to prevent the virus spreading.

His advice and those of his Public Health Agency colleagues was expert and well-intentioned.

They also wanted to reduce "panic" among the public by stressing the mild nature of symptoms for the majority affected and confirmed those being tested - the numbers are now being given - were rising.

However, since Thursday's first confirmed case of coronavirus in Northern Ireland, a vacuum has been created in terms of information being provided - that has arguably led to more public panic being created.

A 'briefing' was given to broadcast journalists yesterday - The Irish News was not invited - by the health minister but confusion remained for hours about the travel arrangements of the woman and her child and how many people she had come into contact with.

In the Republic, early morning media briefings were held by health authorities while its health minister Simon Harris was at Dublin airport to meet with environmental health staff.

But in the north, it took until yesterday evening for a statement to be released by the north's PHA to stay that those using public health transport between Dublin and Belfast "need not be concerned" - with the mode of transport not being confirmed and social media awash with concerns.

With "twice weekly" briefings planned for the north next week, it can only be hoped that as the virus inevitably spreads so too will the authorities openness with the public.

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Northern Ireland news