| 13.3°C Belfast

Two more coronavirus cases confirmed in Northern Ireland

One of the adults recently travelled from northern Italy and the other has had contact with a confirmed case elsewhere in the UK.

Close

Two more patients have been confirmed to have Covid-19 in Northern Ireland (PA)

Two more patients have been confirmed to have Covid-19 in Northern Ireland (PA)

Two more patients have been confirmed to have Covid-19 in Northern Ireland (PA)

Two further positive Covid-19 cases have been detected in Northern Ireland.

Health minister Robin Swann stressed the region remains in “containment phase” and said the latest detections showed that systems in place are working.

The two further presumptive positive results for Covid-19 brings the total in Northern Ireland to three since testing began.

The two cases are not connected. One recently travelled from northern Italy.

The other had recent contact with a person elsewhere in the UK who has tested positive for coronavirus, health officials said.

Queen’s University Belfast said in a statement that it has been informed that one of the cases is within its community.

In a statement the university said it will remain open and operating as normal.

“We are now working with the Public Health Agency to trace anyone who has been in contact with the infected individual to ensure they are supported to receive medical attention if required and to take all appropriate steps to contain any further spread of the virus and protect the welfare of all within the wider university community,” it said.

In Dublin, the chief medical officer in the Irish Department of Health said he does not believe the people who tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland had travelled through the Republic.

Tony Holohan said: “The contact tracing process has only begun. We have not been alerted to any cross-border aspect in terms of that contact tracing.”

“It is still quite early in the contact tracing process so it is still possible, but there are no indications as of yet.”

Northern Ireland's Health minister Robin Swann, left, with the region's chief medical officer Michael McBride
Northern Ireland’s Health minister Robin Swann, left, with the region’s chief medical officer Michael McBride (Rebecca Black/PA)

The latest positive test results in Northern Ireland have been sent to Public Health England laboratories for verification.

Mr Swann said both patients are adults and are receiving appropriate care.

The minister said Public Health Agency personnel are “working rapidly” to establish contacts they may have had to prevent further spread.

“As I have said from the beginning, it is a matter of when not if we receive positive cases here in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“In regards to how the two additional cases have come forward, I think it has shown confidence in the systems we have in place and they have worked yet again.

“I would stress that Northern Ireland remains in containment phase.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has said the public should remain calm in the face of the latest coronavirus diagnoses.

She said civil contingency measures were all in place and she was confident the Northern Ireland Executive was doing all it could to prepare for the inevitable increase in cases.

Earlier it emerged that the health authorities in the region are planning to send Covid-19 patients to England if they require further clinical treatment.

Antrim Area Hospital is ready for drive-through testing for the virus and expects patients will receive results within four hours. They will be swabbed in the nose and mouth then told to go home and self-isolate while awaiting the outcome.

Doctors are attempting to contain the spread of the virus until the summer, when it will be easier for hard-pressed health services to manage and the infection could go dormant.

Most cases are expected to be relatively mild and may simply involve self-isolation and care at home in Northern Ireland.

Dr Seamus O’Reilly, medical director for the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, said: “If the test comes back positive there is a very well-rehearsed process that we do in conjunction with our colleagues in England.”

That involves assessing whether the patient requires care in a hospital then planning the logistics of the move.

“We identify an infectious diseases bed in England, if possible, to transfer the patient to.

“If we cannot transfer the patient across for whatever reason, the infectious diseases beds in the Royal (The Royal Victoria in west Belfast) will be used for that purpose, that is ward 7A.”

Speaking at a news conference alongside Mr Swann later on Wednesday, chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said not all patients will be transferred to any of the four High Consequences Infectious Diseases (HCID) units in England.

“We have a regional infectious disease unit here in Northern Ireland and we have other facilities which are able to provide appropriate treatment and care, and as we get into further phases of this, we know that for the vast majority of people it will be a mild to moderate illness and they will get appropriate care based on where the appropriate place is to treat the individual,” he said.

“Not all cases are being transferred to high consequence infectious disease unit because it is not clinically necessary. Where it is clinically necessary, those considerations will be determined by those treating individual patients.”

Tests are analysed in Belfast’s virology lab and the number which can be conducted has been increased.

Results will be ready within four hours, Dr O’Reilly added.

Meanwhile, Stormont’s First and Deputy First Ministers have scaled back a US investment trip to take part in emergency meetings on Covid-19.

Arlene Foster said the infection is the top priority of ministers in Belfast.

She and Ms O’Neill cancelled plans for the New York leg of their itinerary at the start of next week. Economy Minister Diane Dodds will be fulfilling engagements in New York instead.

Mrs Foster told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme that their top priority as leaders of the Executive “is to make sure we are in a good position in relation to Covid-19 and the coronavirus and that we have all the planning in place”.

She added: “So we took the decision over the weekend that we felt we needed to be here for emergency meetings that take place on Monday of next week.

“It is important that we are part of that and that we are involved in that so that is why we have decided to limit the trip.”

The DUP leader and Sinn Fein vice-president are still anticipated to travel to Washington DC for a series of political meetings in the US capital later in the week.

Health officials in Northern Ireland have said routine hospital appointments and surgeries may be postponed if Covid-19 infects large numbers of people.

Wards could be set aside and more critical care beds added to the 100 already available.

The establishment of special pods separate from emergency departments and home testing kits may also be needed if the virus spreads widely through the community.

Dr McBride said medical staff are in a phase of containment.

He added: “What we are doing is planning for all eventualities.”

Around 99% of people affected will make a full recovery, while 95% will suffer mild to moderate symptoms which will not require hospital treatment, Dr McBride added.

That is based on data from the source of the infection in China and those numbers will change as officials receive information from European systems more aligned with Northern Ireland’s.

PA