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Coronavirus outbreak: Northern Ireland is planning for worst and working for best, says department as minister to update Stormont on Covid-19 strategy

Health Minister to update Stormont on Covid-19 strategy

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Briefing: Robin Swann

Briefing: Robin Swann

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Boris Johnson visits a lab at Public Health England’s National Infection Service

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South Korean soldiers spray disinfectant at railway station

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A woman wears a mask during protest in Thailand

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Briefing: Robin Swann

Northern Ireland's coronavirus strategy centres on "planning for the worst and working for the best", according to the Department of Health (DoH).

Officials have also claimed the region "is playing an active role in UK-wide planning" on the deadly disease, stressing: "The UK's four chief medical officers are working closely together."

In a statement DoH said "close co-operation is also ongoing with colleagues in the Republic of Ireland", adding that "emergency measures in the forthcoming UK Government action plan will apply to Northern Ireland".

Details of the battle plan to combat what one leading virologist has described as "the biggest global threat to public health since swine flu" were issued by the department last night after the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK soared to 35.

So far in Northern Ireland there has only been one confirmed case of the disease, also known as Covid-19, with 93 suspected cases tested and only that one found to be positive.

Two days ago the Public Health Agency (PHA) said laboratory tests had confirmed that a female healthcare worker from Belfast, who had initially tested positive at the RVH, is definitely suffering from coronavirus.

The woman and a child had travelled home on an Aer Lingus flight via Dublin from northern Italy. It is believed that she then boarded an Enterprise train to Belfast.

On Saturday night the first case of the virus was confirmed in the Republic. A man in the east of Ireland is believed to have contracted it after visiting an affected area of northern Italy.

Northern Ireland is playing an active role in UK-wide planning on coronavirus Statement from DoH

In its statement DoH said its "primary focus remains on containment" and it announced that Health Minister Robin Swann would brief Stormont later today.

"Northern Ireland is playing an active role in UK-wide planning on coronavirus," it said.

"That includes participation in Cobra meetings and other established protocols. The UK's four chief medical officers are working closely together.

"As emphasised over the weekend, close co-operation is also ongoing with colleagues in the Republic of Ireland.

"Emergency measures in the forthcoming UK Government action plan will apply to Northern Ireland, as required.

"It is normal practice to plan for worst case scenarios. This does not mean these outcomes are expected or likely.

"This is an important point to underline."

The statement stressed: "We are planning for the worst and working for the best."

It added: "Our primary focus remains on containment. All actions will continue to be based on the best scientific advice.

"Minister Swann will provide updates to Executive colleagues and the Assembly on Monday."

The department's plan follows the activation of three 'Covid-19 priority assessment pods' and a drive-through testing service which went live at Royal Victoria Hospital at the weekend.

Antrim Area Hospital will take delivery of its pod from England tomorrow, which will then be deep-cleaned before being commissioned on Wednesday. It also has a drive-through assessment service which came in to operation last Friday.

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Boris Johnson visits a lab at Public Health England’s National Infection Service

Boris Johnson visits a lab at Public Health England’s National Infection Service

PA

Boris Johnson visits a lab at Public Health England’s National Infection Service

A spokesperson for the South Eastern Health Trust confirmed it has ordered a pod which will be located at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald. The 12m x 3m portable buildings, which resemble Portakabins, contain assessment areas, toilets and a waiting area.

They are being introduced to reduce the risk of infection in the main hospital area and to prevent a panic spreading in any emergency department should a person arrive with the virus symptoms.

Yesterday UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock conceded it was "inevitable" that the deadly virus would continue to spread across the UK.

The minister did not rule out following China's lead in shutting down cities if the Covid-19 outbreak escalates, as he outlined a new "battle plan" by the Government yesterday.

If the virus becomes more widespread, the Government will look at registering retired health workers and doctors to work at battling the crisis, and whether encouraging people to work at home could delay its peak until summer when it can be more easily dealt with.

As of yesterday, there have been over 86,500 cases of the virus globally, the majority of which have been in China.

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South Korean soldiers spray disinfectant at railway station

South Korean soldiers spray disinfectant at railway station

YONHAP/AFP via Getty Images

South Korean soldiers spray disinfectant at railway station

Outside of China, it has spread to 53 countries, with more than 6,500 cases and more than 100 deaths. Globally, the illness has killed nearly 3,000 people.

Meanwhile, two schools in Northern Ireland have cancelled ski trips to Italy amid concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

Sacred Heart Grammar in Newry and Dunclug College in Ballymena were both due to leave for Folgaria yesterday.

The decisions came after pupils and staff from three Northern Ireland schools who were recently on school trips to Italy were sent home due to coronavirus concerns.

Belfast Telegraph


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