Coronavirus: North’s health chief ‘confident’ virus can be contained

‘Small number’ of those in contact with woman with coronavirus in NI identified as at risk

Northern Ireland's chief medical officer has said he is confident health authorities in Northern Ireland will be able to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The first case on the island of Ireland was confirmed on Thursday in a woman who had flown to Dublin from northern Italy and then travelled on to Belfast.

She followed the advice from the Public Health Agency (PHA) and contacted her GP and then "self-isolated" at home while awaiting the results of tests.

The "presumptive positive" result has been sent to laboratories in England for verification. The PHA has said she is receiving "specialist care".


Dr Michael McBride said at a press conference in Belfast on Thursday that a “small number” of those in contact with the patient had been identified as at risk.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster on Friday, he said he was "confident that the steps that the individual took upon return to Northern Ireland, based on advice that was relayed, and indeed the prompt and rapid action by PHA colleagues, will ensure that we're able to contain this," he said.

“This individual, when [SHE]developed symptoms, contacted [HER]GP, [AND]received the appropriate advice, self-isolated, and indeed tests were carried out appropriately and in a timely way.

“What we do not have in Northern Ireland at this point in time, and this is really crucially important, we do not have cases in Northern Ireland that have occurred in Northern Ireland,” he said. “We don’t have community transmission in Northern Ireland.”

Dr David Irwin, a consultant in health protection with the PHA, said "the measures this lady took, quite sensibly, staying at home and calling her GP has helped reduce the risk of spread to others, and [SHE]can be commended for that.

“Basically speaking, that has enabled the authorities to put in step everything that has been planned and prepared for to limit spread of the virus to the wider community,” he said.

On Friday, Dr John Cuddihy, the director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, told journalists in Dublin that "each of the stages of this person's journey have been identified and all relevant contacts in all of those stages of transport have been contacted (and) traced."

People who sat within two rows of the woman on the plane have been contacted.

It is not clear whether she travelled from Dublin to Belfast by public transport, but both Iarnród Éireann and Translink have carried out a "sanitising clean" of the Dublin to Belfast Enterprise trains as a "precautionary measure".

A special isolation unit has been established at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

Travellers who have recently returned from high risk areas, including specific parts of northern Italy, should self-isolate at home and contact their GP by phone, the PHA has advised.

“Washing your hands regularly will help prevent flu and other viruses spreading,” the PHA said.

Anyone who becomes unwell and suspects they may have been exposed to coronavirus should stay at home and phone their GP for advice.

Full information and guidance is available at

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times