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Coronavirus: Number of patients in Republic doubles as healthcare staff asked to self-isolate in Cork

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Advice: Dr Tony Holohan

Advice: Dr Tony Holohan

Advice: Dr Tony Holohan

Irish health officials are scrambling to trace dozens more people who could have been exposed to coronavirus after the number of confirmed cases in the Republic doubled in 24 hours.

It was announced on Thursday night that 13 people have now been diagnosed with the new coronavirus, as seven more people tested positive.

An unexplained case of coronavirus Covid-19 in Cork has prompted 60 staff at Cork University Hospital (CUH) to be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

The hospital has a total staff number of around 3,000 - and some of those being asked to self-isolate are medical professionals who would ordinarily be in the frontline for helping patients with Covid-19.

Four men from the east of the country contracted the virus after travelling to northern Italy.

It was also confirmed that two women in the west of the country were being treated after they tested positive for coronavirus.

It is understood these two new cases are linked to a GP, his wife and two children from Clare.

It emerged on Thursday that the GP may have exposed scores of patients to the infection after he continued to work after returning from north Italy.

He was skiing in a part of Italy which was not listed as at risk when he returned and this meant he was not obliged to isolate himself for 14 days unless he had symptoms.

It is understood the GP carried out normal practice surgery on several days, out-of-hours duty and also did a shift in a busy hospital A&E department.

He is also believed to have treated patients in a nursing home.

The positive tests of the GP and his family sparked an urgent hunt by public health doctors for patients who could have been exposed to the virus after the doctor became infectious.

The parents, their daughter and son are being treated in a hospital in the west of Ireland. It is understood that while all are positive it is just the one of the children who has symptoms.

The doctor also did a shift in a west of Ireland hospital A&E department last week with a high number of patients on trolleys. An emergency meeting took place at the hospital on Thursday and student doctors were told to urgently self-isolate until March 12.

Following news of the positive test on Wednesday night, protocols were implemented and a section of the emergency department was closed.

A room or facility where a person who has tested positive for the virus has been must be disinfected. Patients were transferred out of the unit to allow for the cleaning.

Ambulance staff were informed not to transport patients to the emergency department while the cleaning was under way.

It also emerged on Thursday that two schools, a primary and secondary located over 10km apart, have been shut until March 18 and pupils have been told to restrict their movements.

A number of children in a third school were also asked to go into isolation.

A text to parents said: "A person in your school has tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19). As a precaution, the school will be closed until 18 March. The Department of Public Health HSE mid-West will be in contact with you tomorrow with further information."

In a follow-up message to parents on Thursday, they were asked to come and pick up textbooks this morning and tomorrow up to lunchtime.

The third school, also a second level institution, was closed by school management pending advice from the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Health officials last night reassured the public that all steps were being taken to contain the spread of the virus.

Speaking at a briefing, Chief Medical Officer with the Department of Health, Dr Tony Holohan, said: "Ireland remains in containment phase with just one case of community transmission. This is, however, a rapidly evolving situation. Public health doctors are working hard to ensure our containment measures are operating effectively.

"Most people who become infected with Covid-19 experience a mild illness and recover, but it can be more severe for some.

"However, this will need a national effort. Every individual needs to be aware of how to protect their own health and the health of others. The most important way they can do this is by following public health advice."

Independent.ie