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Fourth coronavirus case emerges but no plans to cancel St Patrick's Day events in Northern Ireland

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St Patrick's Day celebrations

St Patrick's Day celebrations

A patient arrives at Antrim Area Hospital to be assessed for coronavirus yesterday afternoon

A patient arrives at Antrim Area Hospital to be assessed for coronavirus yesterday afternoon

St Patrick's Day celebrations

One new case of coronavirus has been confirmed in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number to four.

The infected person is an adult who previously travelled from Italy and is linked to a previously confirmed case.

Public Health Agency staff are working to identify anyone who has been in contact with the person in order to prevent the further spread of the virus.

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said: "Further positive cases have been expected and we anticipate the number will increase in the days and weeks ahead.

"Northern Ireland remains in the containment phase and it is important to emphasise that. This will obviously be kept under constant review.

"As has previously been stated, there will not be a sharp transition between containment and delay phases. Many of the actions taken during containment will still continue in any delay phase. Responses may vary between different regions, depending on the circumstances."

It comes as five new cases were identified last night in the Republic of Ireland bringing to 18 the number of confirmed cases in the country.

The National Public Health Emergency Team announced the new cases.

Among them is a female healthcare worker in the south of Ireland and her case is associated with a close contact with a confirmed case, the National Public Health Emergency Team announced.

The other four cases are a male in the east of Ireland and a woman in the south whose cases are associated with travel from northern Italy; a female in the west of Ireland whose case is associated with close contact with a confirmed case; and a male in the south of the country whose case is associated with travel.

Liam Woods, HSE director of acute operations, said: "Healthcare workers are at the frontline of this virus outbreak. The Department of Health and the HSE are equally dedicated to protecting and supporting this vital group of people."

Dr Ronan Glynn, Ireland's deputy chief medical officer, said: "The past number of weeks have been challenging for everyone in our healthcare system. This challenge is going escalate as the number of cases here rise.

"We must prioritise the protection of our frontline healthcare staff and as part of this the National Public Health Emergency Team has established a sub-group to identify and implement appropriate measures to protect them."

More than 160 have now tested positive for coronavirus in the UK, in the largest day-on-day increase.

In total, 163 people had tested positive for Covid-19 as of 9am on Friday, up from 115 cases reported at the same time on Thursday.

On Thursday evening another patient, reported to be a woman in her 70s, became the first person in the UK to die after being diagnosed with Covid-19 while at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.

Last night, a man in his early 80s with underlying health issues became the second to die in the UK.

Meanwhile, St Patrick's Day events across Northern Ireland are still scheduled to go ahead as planned despite fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

At present Belfast City Council has no plans to cancel its annual St Patrick Day celebrations Belfast City Council spokesperosn

Organisers of the biggest event in Belfast and another major gathering in Armagh say that while they are watching the situation closely, there are currently no plans to call off the traditional March 17 celebrations.

"At present Belfast City Council has no plans to cancel its annual St Patrick Day celebrations," a Belfast City Council spokesperson said.

"We will continue to follow public health advice and will act in accordance with any advice received."

Thousands of people from all around the world are expected to attend the city centre celebrations. An independently organised parade in Armagh is also scheduled to take place.

Chairman of the city's St Patrick's Day Celebrations Committee, Stephen Fields said: "It is expected to be a bigger and more colourful event than last year.

"Organisers are keeping a close eye on any possible developments in the coronavirus issue but as it stands currently the parade is still going ahead as planned. If public health officials' advice was to change we would certainly take this on board."

The first two parade cancellations in Ireland were announced on Friday, with events in Cork called off due to public health concerns.

But Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday that mass public gatherings such as St Patrick's Day parades will not be cancelled amid the spread of Covid-19.

Speaking following a stakeholder meeting with health officials yesterday, he said: "We are not recommending at this stage that any major events be cancelled but this of course will be kept under review."

I think the risk is too big to go ahead and I think it's time to make a hard decision Professor Kingston Mills

That was despite a warning from a top scientist at trinity College's School of Biochemistry and Immunology.

Professor Kingston Mills said: "It's still at the very early stages so I don't think we need the measures that were required in China, but we do need to be a little more stringent.

"St Patrick's Day, personally, I don't think they should go ahead.

"I think that's a mass gathering that involved a lot of people that will have come from outside Ireland. I think the risk is too big to go ahead and I think it's time to make a hard decision."

It came after more than 60 staff at Cork University Hospital were asked to self-isolate following the identification of a case of community transmission of the virus at the site.

In another development, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald announced she was cancelling plans to visit Washington DC next week for St Patrick's events.

Mrs McDonald's children attend a school that has been closed due to a coronavirus case.

Belfast Telegraph