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Only a matter of time before more coronavirus cases confirmed in Northern Ireland, warns committee chief

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More cases of coronavirus are to be expected in Northern Ireland, the chair of Stormont's Health Committee has warned

More cases of coronavirus are to be expected in Northern Ireland, the chair of Stormont's Health Committee has warned

More cases of coronavirus are to be expected in Northern Ireland, the chair of Stormont's Health Committee has warned

More cases of coronavirus are to be expected in Northern Ireland, the chair of Stormont's Health Committee has warned.

Sinn Fein's Colm Gildernew made the comments as two further cases of Covid-19 were confirmed yesterday, taking the total to three.

One of those infected is a postgraduate student from Queen's University who had recently returned from northern Italy and had been in contact with others at the university.

An emergency meeting was held yesterday at Queen's and the university is to stay open as normal. Speaking after a briefing from Health Minister Robin Swann, Mr Gildernew said more cases of the respiratory disease were to be expected in Northern Ireland. "News of newly confirmed cases of coronavirus are not surprising as this was always a likelihood given the nature of the virus," he said. "I want to wish the individuals concerned a speedy and full recovery.

"I welcome the fact that health advice was followed in both these cases and I would urge the public to continue to follow the advice of health authorities.

"Our health services work best when it has the full support of the community. I want to extend my support to our healthcare workers and urge everyone to do the same. If you or anyone has concerns that they may have the virus, please do not attend the surgery or hospital without phoning in advance, call the helpline number on 111."

A spokesperson for Queen's University said it was working with the Public Health Agency (PHA) to identify anyone who was in contact with the infected individual.

A major incident team was convened yesterday to put in place the appropriate measures which will be communicated to students and staff. Mr Swann repeated yesterday that "it was a matter of when, not if" more positive cases would be identified, and that Northern Ireland remained in the containment phase. He said the two new cases were not related and that the PHA was "working rapidly" to identify those at risk.

"With regards to the two additional cases that have come forward, I think it has shown confidence in the systems that we have in place and they have worked yet again," Mr Swann added. Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride stressed that the two new cases were not contracted here. "It's not a case of someone in Northern Ireland passing it on to someone else in Northern Ireland," he said.

He said the long incubation period of coronavirus before symptoms appear meant measures like temperature testing at airports were not effective.

"The best evidence is that we should be devoting our time and energy in terms of people giving appropriate advice," he said. Dr Gerry Waldron from the PHA said it was "not too much of a jump of the imagination" to say the two infected individuals would have flown directly into Northern Ireland.

He said an established method of contact tracing was well under way for the patient who travelled from Italy. "If there are connections with people at airports we'll be identifying the people most at risk there," Dr Waldron said.

"We'll be making contacts with them and informing and advising them what actions they need to take."

Those most at risk, such as those who live with an infected patient, would be focused on to begin with.

Mr Swann concluded: "These two additional cases have proven that the systems that we have in place have worked. So I think the general public should take reassurance in the preparations we have made."

Belfast Telegraph