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Coronavirus: NHS helpline receiving 341 calls a day from Northern Ireland

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A total of 12 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Northern Ireland (Michael Cooper/PA)

A total of 12 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Northern Ireland (Michael Cooper/PA)

A total of 12 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Northern Ireland (Michael Cooper/PA)

An NHS helpline providing advice on coronavirus has received an average of 341 calls a day from Northern Ireland, it has emerged.

Until February 28, the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland operated its own dedicated helpline, however this was replaced with the NHS 111 advice line.

Health Minister Robin Swann said the change was made in light of the "increased level of public queries" about coronavirus and to ensure "people in Northern Ireland will have access to the same level of advice as citizens in England".

A Department of Health (DoH) spokesperson confirmed there have been 3070 calls to the NHS coronavirus helpline from February 28 to March 8.

In the two weeks prior to this, the Public Health Agency received around 900 calls to their dedicated helpline.

The news comes following the confirmation of eight new cases of coronavirus in Northern Ireland over the weekend, bringing to total number of cases here to 12.

Across the island of Ireland, there have been 33 confirmed cases.

Alliance Party health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw said putting in place the 111 helpline has been beneficial as more people have been able to access relevant information.

“I continue to seek assurances from the Health Minister that advice in Northern Ireland is being updated and disseminated properly, not least to people identified as particularly at risk from virus, many of whom will be among the least likely to use the internet regularly," she added.

“I am glad people are taking responsibility to seek advice. We all have a duty to inform and protect ourselves and each other as best we can, and the 111 number is a key part of that.”

In the Republic, there has already been a move to cancel large scale gatherings. Both Cork and Dublin have cancelled their St Patrick's Day parades due to the outbreak.

More than 500,000 people are expected to travel to Ireland for St Patrick's Day parades and festivals.

Speaking following a meeting of the UK Government's emergency response committee, COBRA, on Monday, First Minister Arlene Foster said there was no advice on cancelling large public gatherings in the UK, however this could change.

"I know it is very uncertain for anyone who is planning an event or indeed attending an event," she said.

"Because this is a new virus that we have not dealt with before, that is very virulent we just have to take scientific advice on all these matters."

Antrim Area Hospital has set up a "drive-through" testing and assessment facility in order to deal with those suspected of having the virus.

It has also been reported that the Mater Hospital in Belfast is to be the main treatment centre for patients affected by the virus in the city.

The Belfast Trust spokesperson said: "Belfast Trust like all trusts is planning to provide care for the number of positive Covid-19 patients who may need hospital care in the coming weeks

“These arrangements will involve identifying wards and units and prioritising care for the sickest patients. The Trust is looking how best to do this across all acute sites including the Mater Hospital.

“The Trust has accessed more personal protective equipment to further augment the stocks we already have.”

There are currently 280 confirmed cases in the UK with four deaths linked to the virus.

Belfast Telegraph