Health expert: Cork hospitals can handle 'a few cases' of coronavirus but personal behaviour is key to stopping the spread

Health expert: Cork hospitals can handle 'a few cases' of coronavirus but personal behaviour is key to stopping the spread
A visitor wearing a surgical mask arrives in Dublin Airport this afternoon...Picture Colin Keegan

CORK emergency departments would be equipped to handle “a few cases of coronavirus without too much of a problem”, a leading expert has said. 

Dr Chris Luke, Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Public Health in UCC, said that although emergency departments in Cork can deal with cases of coronavirus, the key to stopping the spread will be self-preservation, self-care and responsibility.

Dr Luke, who was a consultant in emergency medicine at both Cork University Hospital (CUH) and Mercy University Hospital in the city for 18 years, said responsibility does not lie solely on the health service and that prevention of the virus “really is down to the way people mind themselves”.

Airport staff walk past a sign warning of Coronavirus/COVID-19
Airport staff walk past a sign warning of Coronavirus/COVID-19

“The key to managing the COVID-19 virus lies with the people, the population, so if the people behave with self-restraint and follow the advice about hygiene, we should be relatively okay,” he said.

He said that health professionals are in touch with the World Health Organisation.

“The knowledge about the virus is obviously unfolding day by day, week by week, so we’re learning. Nobody’s immune to it which is one of the problems, there's no vaccine, there's no specific treatment, so we’re just learning about it."

He said that difficulty surrounding controlling the spread of the virus occurs when people do not follow the guidelines, He advised people not to go directly to GP waiting rooms or emergency departments if they are showing symptoms of the virus.

Instead, people are advised to phone their GP if they are feeling unwell and are experiencing symptoms of the virus.

“Waiting rooms are more dangerous than trains and airplanes and buses as far as I can understand,” Dr Luke said.

“The vast majority of cases can be managed at home, with rest, fluids, honey, vitamins, Panadol, Nurofen, and if they don’t sort you out over a day or two and there are worries then pick up the phone and check the HSE’s website first before you go anywhere.

The Coronavirus/COVID-19 advice stand.
The Coronavirus/COVID-19 advice stand.

“The main thing is to keep your distance, keep washing your hands, use tissues and follow etiquette,” he said.

He said that GPs have been supplied with basic kits in the event of having to deal with an obvious case of coronavirus.

As pharmacies in the city have found it difficult to keep face masks and sanitizing products in stock in recent weeks, Dr Luke believes that face masks “are mainly for placebo effect”.

“They make people feel more comfortable, they make people feel safer, but the science suggests that the benefits really are quite minimal and the people who should be wearing face masks, are the nurses, doctors and paramedics who are faced close up with cases,” he said.

He said that the worst case scenario would be if a person who travelled directly from a virus-stricken area and who was symptomatic visited a GP or an emergency department.

“The greatest risk of all is thoughtlessness on the part of people.

“So everybody needs to think ahead, every home should have a home, every home should have the basic kit for coughs and colds and headaches, as they should all the time anyway.

“It’s likely that this will be a seasonal thing and that when the weather changes it will settle down, so now is the time to be getting a week or two’s worth of Panadol, Nurofen, honey and lemon and all that basic stuff,” he said.

Minister for Health Simon Harris TD 
Minister for Health Simon Harris TD 

Meanwhile, Cork City Council is continuing its preparations for the St Patrick’s Day Festival which will take place from Friday, March 13 to Tuesday, March 17.

The parade itself is set to take place through Cork city on March 17.

A spokesperson said that the council’s priority is the health and safety of those in attendance of the parade.

“As the international coronavirus outbreak is evolving rapidly, we will await the guidance of the expert sub group which has been set up by the National Public Health Emergency Team to develop criteria for the risk assessment of mass gatherings,” the spokesperson said.

Cork City Council will issue updates if there is any change in position about the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

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