It's only a matter of time before the coronavirus arrives in Ireland and we must be prepared for it, a leading GP has warned.
Calls have been made for a country-wide public health response to combat the illness, which has killed hundreds and affected hundreds more across the globe.
The 2019-nCoV coronavirus was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) on December 31, 2019, with symptoms ranging from fever and cough to other pneumonia-like symptoms.
Since then, more than 200 people have died in China, the total number of infections has surpassed the SARS epidemic twenty years ago, and the illness has spread to the UK and Europe.
Two cases of the illness have been confirmed in Newcastle in the UK and the WHO has declared a global coronavirus emergency.
Speaking to The Echo, GP and former president of the National Association for General Practitioners (NAGP), Dr Maitiu O’Tuathail, warned Ireland must be prepared for when the virus eventually reaches our shores.
“It is only a matter of time before the coronavirus arrives here in Ireland,” said Dr O’Tuathail, who has worked in parts of Cork as part of his work with SafetyNet Primary Care.
“We must be prepared for this and this must involve engagement with all front line staff, especially GPs, who will be the first port of call for worried and sick patients.
“We need to commence these discussions now, prior to the arrival of the virus, and not when it has already arrived, as we have traditionally done in the past,” he added.
“If we all pull together, and are supported and resourced to deal with this, we can manage this.”
Cork GPs were briefed on the virus in recent weeks in the wake of the outbreak.
In an email to Cork healthcare workers, Dr Augustine Pereira, Director of Public Health for the HSE South, said the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) is closely monitoring the outbreak.
“The National Ambulance Service (NAS) and the local receiving hospital should be alerted in advance of the transfer of a possible case of 2019-nCoV,” he said.
“The Medical Officer of Health in Public Health should also be alerted to the identification of a possible case of novel coronavirus.
“In addition, it is important that appropriate Infection Prevention and Control precautions be taken,” he added.
Dr Pereira also warned that if a symptomatic person phones the Primary Care service and indicates that they may have novel coronavirus or are concerned because they have travelled from China and are now unwell, a remote risk assessment is to be performed over the phone.
Meanwhile, University College Cork (UCC) emailed staff and students in recent days to request they refrain from travelling to China.
In a statement to The Echo, a UCC spokesperson said the college was monitoring the recommendations from the HPSC on a daily basis and was acting on these recommendations as they emerge.
Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) said communication on the issue would be circulated in the coming days.
The Department of Foreign Affairs is advising travellers already in the country to take extra care, wash their hands regularly with alcohol-based soap, wear single-use masks and observe food safety as recommended by the Who.
The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) has also recommended that customers avoid travelling to the Hubei province of China entirely, and reconsider travelling to the rest of China unless it is absolutely essential amid the outbreak of coronavirus in a number of Chinese cities.
The ITAA recommends that intending travellers maintain contact with their travel adviser and tour operator for travel updates.