Thursday, 5 March 2020
Department of Health
Ireland has advanced plans in place as part of its comprehensive preparedness to deal with public health emergencies such as the one we are now experiencing in relation to Covid-19 (Coronavirus). These plans have developed from Ireland’s response to similar incidents such as pandemic influenza, SARS and MERS in the past.
Prior to the declaration by the World Health Organization on 30 January 2020 that the outbreak of Coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China, meets the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) in accordance with the provisions of the International Health Regulations (2005), Ireland has been monitoring the situation since it originally arose in December, 2019. We have been preparing for the potential consequences since then.
To the greatest extent possible, in matters relating to emerging international public health incidents, Ireland follows the advice and guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and continues to do so as the situation evolves.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is the forum for managing the interface between the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive during the planning and response phases of a public health emergency. The NPHET is chaired by the Chief Medical Officer and held its first meeting in relation to Covid-19 on Monday 27 January and has continued to meet regularly since then.
In addition, an Expert Advisory Group provides scientific advice and assistance to the NPHET in carrying out its work.
We are very conscious of the impacts on other sectors outside of health. Issues such as port health, travel advice, contingency planning, communications as well as advice and guidance to various sectors, including the public, are being kept under constant review.
The Government has also agreed to establish a Cabinet Committee (chaired by the Taoiseach), to assess the social and economic impacts of the potential spread of COVID-19. The work of the Cabinet Committee will include advice on downstream impacts, mitigations and contingencies for cross-sectoral issues and builds on the effective public health work undertaken to date. The cross-government approach to the coronavirus response will be based around cohesive decision-making, partnership, expert public health advice and clarity of communications.
The Minister for Health signed the Infectious Diseases (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 53 of 2020) on Thursday 20th February 2020. These Regulations made provision for Covid-19 to be added to the list of notifiable diseases so that doctors will be obliged to notify the HSE when a case is suspected or diagnosed.
The HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) is closely monitoring the emerging situation and is collaborating with the Department, other Departments and various agencies in relation to preparedness measures.
We have six cases in Ireland and three in Northern Ireland. The six cases in Ireland include two in the East and four in the West. All cases were identified and tested in line with established protocols for the investigation of suspect cases of Covid-19 and all are associated with travel from an affected area in Northern Italy, rather than contact with another confirmed case. The HSE is working to identify contacts the patients may have had, to provide them with information and advice to prevent further spread. None of the patients have been named publicly by the Department of Health or the HSE in order to protect patient confidentiality. We have also been working closely with the public health authorities in Northern Ireland and public health authorities have activated all appropriate contact tracing protocols.
The National Public Health Emergency Team, at its meeting on 3 March 2020, has recommended the following:
- Ireland’s case definition remains the same. It will continue to be reviewed by the National Public Health Emergency Team as the global situation evolves;
- On public health grounds, the travel advice for Italy is updated to advise against all non-essential travel to the following four regions: Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont;
- Mass Gatherings Guidelines to be published in the coming days, following cross Government review;
- The HSE now moves to a community testing model for assessment and investigation of suspect cases;
- Four sub-groups have been established to review arrangements for vulnerable people, Health & Social Care Workers Protection, Acute Hospital Preparedness, Continuity of supply of Medicines and Medical Devices.
Ireland remains in containment phase, where the focus is on identifying and isolating any possible cases and ensuring rigorous infection prevention and control and contact tracing procedures are in place.
Due to circumstances constantly evolving the Chief Medical Officer and NPHET will continue to communicate key public health messages to the public to keep them informed and up to date in relation to all matters concerning Covid-19. All relevant information will continue to be published on the websites of the HSE, the HPSC and Gov.ie.