Ireland’s chief medical officer has said the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin on March 17 does not need to be cancelled, despite concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
There are now five Covid-19 cases on the island or Ireland – three in Northern Ireland and two in the Republic.
Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer at the Department of Health, insisted “as things stand” the parade can go ahead in a fortnight.
Speaking at a press briefing in Dublin on Wednesday, Mr Holohan said: “I’m going to be as clear as I can be about this because we have been asked it on a number of occasions.
“As things stand, and on the basis of our assessments on the risks to this country, we see no implications for the St Patrick’s Day parade.”
“As things stand, we don’t envisage that situation changing. On the other hand; this is a fast-moving national and international situation.
“We see no reason why there should be a question or doubt, as we see it, around the holding of St Patrick’s Day events in this country.”
In 2011, during the foot-and-mouth disease crisis, the parade was cancelled because of fears about the disease spreading.
When asked if the Cheltenham Festival horse racing in the UK next week should be avoided, the department’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: “We are looking at the international situation as it is evolving all the time.
“I think it is important to differentiate between what we call localised community transmission and widespread community transmission, and certainly the evidence to date from the UK is that you have mostly localised areas of community transmission so, in that context, we would not be issuing any further advice in relation to travelling there.”
Mr Holohan said the Health Protection Surveillance Centre has been informed of the two new cases in Northern Ireland on Wednesday.
He said he does not believe the people who tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland had travelled through the Republic.
“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.”
Mr Holohan said it is important to not “stereotype” people from other cultures when it comes to Covid-19.
“Given that Covid-19 is a new disease it is understandable that its emergence may give rise to anxiety and fear among the general public. These factors can also give rise to harmful stereotypes,” he said.
“This virus knows no borders or race. Restricting travel into Ireland does not form a component of our current response. We must continue to focus on ensuring that everyone is informed and knows what to do in the event they develop symptoms.”
Dr Glynn said there is no need for members of the general public to wear face masks and that hand washing is the best defence against the virus.
“The single most effective and cheapest measure a person can use is washing their hands (with soap) – not hand sanitiser.”