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School closed after confirmed contact with Ireland’s first coronavirus patient

Health chiefs have told pupils and teachers to restrict their movements for the next 14 days.

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Dr John Cuddihy, HSE director of public health (left), and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan (Niall Carson/PA)

Dr John Cuddihy, HSE director of public health (left), and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan (Niall Carson/PA)

Dr John Cuddihy, HSE director of public health (left), and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan (Niall Carson/PA)

A secondary school in Ireland has been closed after its pupils and teachers were confirmed as having been in contact with the state’s first coronavirus patient.

Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan announced the move at a press conference in Dublin on Sunday.

The closure comes less than 24 hours after authorities confirmed the Irish Republic’s first case of Covid-19 – a male living in the east of the country who contracted the virus in one of the affected areas of northern Italy.

Dr Holohan said the male had subsequently been in the school, which is also in the east of the country.

It will close for 14 days, the incubation period for the virus, during which all pupils and teachers are being asked to restrict their movements.

Coronavirus
Dr  Tony Holohan, centre, alongside the HSE’s director of public health John Cuddihy and deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn (Niall Carson/PA)

Dr Holohan said: “Public health doctors are in direct contact with pupils, their parents and the staff involved.”

The case is the second on the island of Ireland. The first involves a woman in Northern Ireland who also contracted the virus in northern Italy.

All pupils and staff will not automatically be tested for the virus, but anyone who presents with symptoms will be.

Dr Holohan said he was choosing not to name what he said was a “large” school in an effort to protect the identity of the patient.

He said it was also important to foster an environment where other people in Ireland who may develop symptoms feel comfortable contacting the authorities.

“The reason for that is we want to protect the identity of the individual family and community concerned,” he said of the decision not to name the school.

“We think there is a balance that must be struck. We want to create an environment in which people can feel that they can report symptoms – they’ll come forward, they will be offered assistance, they will be offered medical help if that’s necessary, their identity will not be revealed.

“We have nothing to hide in terms of the information we are providing to you but we have something to protect in terms of the identity of the individuals concerned.”

Dr Holohan said there was a lot of misinformation about the virus circulating on social media. He said much of it was not grounded in science.

“We will continue to try to get the message out that this is an illness that we can contain, we can slow the progress of,” he said.

He said the evidence showed that for the vast majority of people who contract Covid-19, it is a “mild illness”.

Ireland’s Department of Education said it was available to assist the school in any way necessary.

“The closing of this school was a decision made on public health grounds after risk assessment deemed it appropriate,” said a departmental statement.

“All other schools will remain open. The departments will continue to communicate with all schools on this issue.”

Earlier, Dr Holohan’s colleague, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn, urged the public not to panic about coronavirus, insisting the risk level remained low in the country.

“The ECDC, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, has been clear that the situation that we’ve seen evolve in Italy, there’s a moderate to high likelihood that that will occur in other countries such as Ireland,” he told RTE Radio One.

“We are preparing for that here, but that notwithstanding, we still remain in a containment phase here.

“We’ve had one case, there is no evidence of community transmission so far in Ireland.

“It won’t be surprising if we have more cases. But the confirmation of the case here, and the case in Northern Ireland in the past number of days, does not change our risk status and does not change our approach.”

He added: “I would reiterate again, that the risk to an individual in Ireland at the moment remains low, people should not panic, but they should certainly appraise themselves of the measures that they themselves can take to protect themselves, and first and foremost that’s about following the correct information and using basic hand hygiene and taking those measures regularly and appropriately.”

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn has urged the public not to panic (Niall Carson/PA)

Dr Ronan Glynn said advice on whether events like St Patrick’s Day parades should go ahead would be issued within days.

“Clearly there will be events of major or national significance that will require input from public health doctors and medical expertise,” he said.

The medical expert said people would not currently be exposing themselves to an increased risk if they attended large public gatherings.

He also ruled out entry testing for the virus at airports, potentially by taking passenger temperatures, insisting such measures did not work.

Hours before the confirmed case was announced on Saturday, Government ministers on both sides of the Irish border held talks on how to co-ordinate their response to the coronavirus spread.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris held a conference call with Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann.

Senior health officials from both jurisdictions were also involved in the discussions, which focused on north-south co-operation.

Mr Swann said: “We will continue to co-operate on contact tracing and other vital steps as we work relentlessly to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.”

He added: “Positive test results had been anticipated on both sides of the border and we have repeatedly made clear it was a question of when, not if.

“I have full confidence in the expertise and commitment of our public health professionals and pay tribute to everyone working hard to contain the spread of this virus and keep us well.”

PA