SEVENTY-eight people suspected of having the coronavirus have been tested in Ireland in recent weeks, the Department of Health has revealed.
All test results returned negative but leading doctors and health workers have warned that it is only a matter of time before Ireland experiences its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, which has been officially named Covid-19.
The Echo understands that at least one person has undergone tests for the illness at Cork University Hospital in recent weeks.
The latest national figures come after it was revealed on Tuesday that two Irish passengers who were on board the Princess Diamond cruise ship have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney confirmed that the two Irish citizens, who are living abroad, are being treated in hospital in Japan.
Six Irish citizens were on board the Princess Diamond, which is currently docked off Yokahama, Japan.
In a statement, Mr Coveney said: “Two of these tested positive for Covid-19 and are currently being treated in hospital in Japan.
“These citizens share dual citizenship with another EU member state and are not normally resident in Ireland.
“Our embassy in Tokyo is in ongoing contact with them regarding their consular needs,” he added.
Almost 1,900 people have died from Covid-19 since the outbreak, including one person in France.
The total number of cases of the virus has surpassed 73,000.
The HSE claims that Ireland is well prepared to deal with such an eventuality.
However, GPs who would be on the frontline of any potential outbreak, have said they feel drastically unprepared.
The coronavirus was first reported to the WHO on December 31, 2019, with symptoms ranging from fever and cough to other pneumonia-like symptoms.
The outbreak of the illness, which originated in Wuhan, China, was caused by a previously unknown type of coronavirus, a broad family of infections ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like severe acute respiratory syndrome, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Bantry GP Dr Paul O’Sullivan warned that it is only a matter of time before Ireland confirms its first coronavirus case.
“We feel very unprepared,” he said.
“We have had some guidance via email but no equipment such as facemasks or protective suits etc. have been provided.
“There is a feeling that GPs are on our own and a feeling that the HSE won't get its act together until we get an actual case,” he added.
“We have already had a few scares with at least one in Cork University Hospital (CUH).
“It is only a matter of time,” he said.
“Hopefully we may get some equipment supplied from the HSE but our feeling is it may be only piecemeal and not enough for the task in hand.
“Given the speed of the spread in the UK, it may be more virulent than SARS - remember the UK has a much better developed health system, and they are struggling,” he added.
“I think that if it arrived here there would be panic, especially if people started to get very ill and needed to go to A&E.
“The isolation and control would be haphazard as there wouldn’t be room to put them anywhere.”