Belfast hospital sets up isolation unit in preparation for Covid-19 patients

By Michael McHugh, PA

An isolation unit has been established at a Belfast hospital ahead of an expected first case of Covid-19.

Health chiefs believe an infection is near “inevitable” though Northern Ireland has remained clear so far.

Preparations have been stepped up at the country’s hospitals and GP surgeries.

Those concerned about symptoms who have returned from affected areas overseas like China and Italy are urged to contact their GPs by telephone in the first instance and stay at home.

A woman wears a face mask (Victoria Jones/PA)

There are no plans to test those displaying no symptoms.

Dozens of people have been checked for the disease but all results have returned negative, chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said.

The Royal Victoria Hospital, Northern Ireland’s largest, has set aside an isolation ward to treat the first cases.

The authorities are focusing on preventing the disease’s spread and urged the public’s help like practising good hand hygiene.

A vaccine could be months away, Dr McBride said.

Dr Miriam McCarthy, director of commissioning at the Health and Social Care Board, said the first cases may need to be transferred to England or kept in Belfast.

She added: “In that regard, they would be admitted to the Royal Victoria where there is a specialist isolation ward and that has very high specification facilities and isolation rooms and, importantly, dedicated expert staff accustomed to dealing with people with infectious diseases.

“We are firmly of the view that that is the best place for people to be admitted, where they will be looked after with high-quality care, with a specialist team that will help contain the infection and hopefully avoid further spread to other individuals.”

She said every step at present was around containing the disease and being able to act early with preventative measures.