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First Northern Ireland coronavirus case confirmed as 'drive-through' test centre set up at Antrim hospital


Antrim Area Hospital

Antrim Area Hospital

Antrim Area Hospital

The first case of coronavirus in Northern Ireland has been confirmed.

The first presumptive positive case of the virus was announced on Thursday and sent to a Public Health England reference laboratory for confirmation.

On Saturday the Public Health Agency (PHA) announced the diagnosis had now been confirmed.

It is understood the woman affected is being monitored in her home after arriving in Dublin earlier this week on a plane from northern Italy with a child.

The woman had been on a skiing trip in northern Italy and flew back into Dublin Airport.

It is understood she then travelled to Dublin's Connolly Street station by bus before travelling to Northern Ireland by train. She was tested at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

A PHA spokesperson said the family "has asked that their privacy is respected at this time given the personal impact of this issue".

Two schools in Northern Ireland have cancelled ski trips to Italy due to concerns over coronavirus in the region, the BBC has reported.

Sacred Heart Grammar in Newry and Dunclug College in Ballymena were intending to travel to the Folgaria region on Saturday.

Sacred Heart informed parents the trip had been cancelled following "careful deliberation", the decision comes after three schools from Northern Ireland were forced to self isolate after pupils returned from a similar trip to Italy.

On Saturday First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann had a phone conversation with their counterparts in the Republic of Ireland, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris to discuss the response to the coronavirus.

Following the call Ms O'Neill said "we discussed the current situation and all agreed that the good cooperation north and south should continue and we will stay in close contact".

A 'drive-through' coronavirus test centre has been set up at Antrim Area Hospital following the first diagnosis in Northern Ireland.

The Irish News has reported that the process allows staff to test patients through the window of their cars.

Staff wearing protective masks and clothing carry out the process using a swab to test patients, referred by their GP who suspects they may have the virus based on their travel history and symptoms.

The process is also being used by the NHS at hospitals in England and Scotland.

A spokesperson for the Northern Health and Social Care Trust said the process kept hospital staff and other patients safe.

"The individual is provided with information advising them of the need to self-isolate and who to contact for further advice if their symptoms worsen and they become unwell," the spokesperson said.

"This approach safeguards the hospital environment and vulnerable patients from potential exposure to Covid-19 [coronavirus]."

Northern Ireland now also has full access to the NHS 111 helpline service on the coronavirus.

It replaces the localised helpline number with immediate effect and has been put in place by the Department of Health in consultation with the Public Health Agency.

To obtain advice on coronavirus, all people here have to do now is dial 111.

Speaking on Friday evening Health Minister Robin Swann said he had been keen to enhance local helpline provision "in light of the increased level of public queries about coronavirus".

“I had asked officials to explore the option of Northern Ireland having access to NHS 111 for this purpose. I am pleased that this has been achieved so quickly, and would like to thank the staff who have worked to bring this about in a short space of time," he said.

“This means people in Northern Ireland will have access to the same level of advice as citizens in England.”

On Saturday three more coronavirus cases were diagnosed in England, bringing the UK total to 23.

Two of the patients had recently travelled back from Italy while the other had returned from Asia, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said.

The three cases – one in Gloucestershire, one in Hertfordshire and another in Berkshire – are being investigated and any individuals who had contact with the patients are now being traced.

It comes as health officials continue to trace a patient who became the first to catch the illness within the UK.

It was not clear if the patient had contracted the virus “directly or indirectly” from somebody who had recently travelled abroad, Prof Whitty said.

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