Coronavirus: Northern Ireland confirms first case of disease

Tom Gillespie, news reporter
·4-min read

Northern Ireland has confirmed its first case of the coronavirus, its Public Health Agency has said.

Dr Michael McBride, Northern Ireland's chief medical officer, said the adult patient travelled there from northern Italy via Dublin and is being treated in a specialist unit.

The Public Health Agency announced the case at a briefing in Belfast and said it was "working rapidly" to identify anyone the patient came into contact with to prevent a further spread.

The positive result has been sent to Public Health England laboratories for verification.

The case in Northern Ireland brings the total number of people diagnosed with the disease in the UK to 16.

Meanwhile, four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome and star sprinter Mark Cavendish were among riders who will be tested for the coronavirus after the UAE Tour was cancelled amid health fears.

The final two stages of the race were due to take place on Friday and Saturday but the race was abandoned after two members of staff on the race became unwell.

All riders and staff have been confined to their rooms at the Crowne Royal Plaza Abu Dhabi Yas Island.

Dr Michael McBride said the individual in Northern Ireland acted appropriately in reporting concerns to the health authorities but those most at risk who were in close proximity are being traced and checked.

The senior official said: "The risk to the rest of the population is low."

A special unit has been established at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for isolating those suffering from the virus but the health authorities were unable to confirm where the individual is being treated.

Dr McBride added: "We have been planning for the first positive case in Northern Ireland and have made clear that it was a question of when not if.

"We have robust infection control measures in place which enable us to respond immediately.

"Our health service is used to managing infections and would assure the public that we are prepared."

Burbage Primary School and a GP surgery, both in Buxton, Derbyshire, closed in England on Thursday as two people tested positive for the coronavirus.

The school closed because a parent contracted the virus in Tenerife, where 168 Britons are among 700 guests who have been kept in quarantine in a hotel on the island.

The other person contracted the virus in Italy, which has become the worst affected country in Europe with more than 400 cases and 14 deaths.

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One of the patients in England has been taken to the specialist infectious diseases centre at the Royal Liverpool Hospital and the other to the Royal Free Hospital in London.

The NI Public Health Agency would not confirm where their patient was being held.

England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, has warned that onward transmission between people in the UK was "just a matter of time in my view".

Speaking at a Nuffield Trust summit, he said: "If this becomes a global epidemic then the UK will get it, and if it does not become a global epidemic, the UK is perfectly capable of containing and getting rid of individual cases leading to onward transmission."

But he said onward transmission was likely, adding: "If it is something which is containable, the UK can contain it. If it is not containable, it will be non-containable everywhere and then it is coming our way."

He said there could be a potential "social cost" if the virus intensifies, which could include reducing mass gatherings and closing schools.

Dr Witty added: "One of the things that's really clear with this virus, much more so than flu, is that anything we do we're going to have to do for quite a long period of time, probably more than two months.

"The implications of that are non-trivial, so we need to think that through carefully.

"This is something we face as really quite a serious problem for society potentially if this goes out of control."

Some British tourists are being allowed to leave a Tenerife hotel which has been on lockdown after four Italian guests, including a doctor, tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The Britons are among 130 people from 11 different countries who can now leave the four-star H10 Costa Adeje Palace.

In other developments around the world:

Sky News will broadcast Virus Outbreak: Global Emergency, a special programme on coronavirus at 2pm on Friday.