A first case of coronavirus has been identified in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland's Public Health Agency said the patient had been to northern Italy and then travelled home to Northern Ireland through Dublin.

It said the patient was receiving specialist care and it was working rapidly to identify any contacts the patient had.

The patient, who is believed to be an adult, is now in isolation at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

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

The Public Health Agency said it would be inappropriate to reveal any personal details and would not answer questions about gender, age or where the patient is from.

Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann has spoken to Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Dr Michael McBride, Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, said the Public Health Agency is liaising with public health bodies in Dublin in an attempt to identify anyone the patient may have come into close contact with.

The agency would not comment on whether the patient travelled from Dublin to Northern Ireland on public transport.

It said staff would work closely with health colleagues in Dublin to identify others potentially at risk.


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Dr McBride said: "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.

"Our advice to the public remains the same. Members of the public who have visited affected regions and have symptoms are advised to self-isolate at home and contact their GP in the first instance. Advice will then be given on next steps, including testing if required."

Speaking on RTÉ's Nine O'Clock News, the Chief Medical Officer with the Department of Health, Dr Tony Holohan, said the news of an identified case in Northern Ireland will not change the department's procedures in addressing the virus south of the border.

He said it was not a surprise and that they have been prepared for it and he said procedures have been in place to deal with it for a number of months.

On people who were on board the flight with the infected person and may have concerns, Dr Holohan said the HSE will be making contact with anyone who has been identified to have been sitting within two rows of the infected person.

He said infection prevention and control procedures have worked well and has prevented transmission to other people.

Minister Harris also said the case was "not unexpected".

"Given the evolving situation, this first case of Covid-19 disease was not unexpected. The National Public Health Emergency Team has been planning for this scenario since January," he said.

"The general public should continue to adhere to the public health protocols issued by the Department of Health."

Covid-19 risk assessment over St Patrick's Day parades

Meanwhile, a risk assessment on the holding of St Patrick's Day parades and other mass gatherings is to be carried out in the wake of the outbreak of coronavirus in other parts of the world.

The National Public Health Emergency Team has established an expert sub-group to develop criteria for assessment, which are due to be available next week.

The St Patrick's Festival committee in Dublin said it would take a "measured and proportionate response" to the public health threat of Covid-19, in line with the guidance and recommendations of Government agencies.

"St Patrick's Festival will take a measured and proportionate response to the public health threat of Covid-19, in line with the guidance and recommendations of the HSE, the NPHET."

The team behind St Patricks Festival, a five-day festival of events in Dublin from the 13-17 March, said it has "underscored the very urgent need" for the results of the risk assessment in order to determine the next course of action in relation to the staging of events, including the St Patrick's Festival Parade in Dublin on 17 March.

The team said it remained firmly committed to ensuring the wellbeing and safety of its audiences, both domestic and international.

It said: "We have underscored the very urgent need for this documentation to be made available to the festival, so that an informed and prompt decision can be made regarding our forthcoming events.

"We have clarified to the relevant authorities our readiness to respond in whatever way is required of us in the best interests of public safety."

Principally funded by Fáilte Ireland, Dublin City Council and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the 2020 St Patrick's Festival consists of hundreds of events throughout Dublin.

According to organisers, more than half a million people are due to attend the St Patrick's Festival Parade, which is seen as the highlight of the five-day festival.

Coronavirus causing 'difficulties' for tourism industry

Meanwhile, the Chief Executive of Tourism Ireland has said the industry is going through short-term difficulties as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, but it is important to stay calm and be measured in its response.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Niall Gibbons pointed out that the tourism industry has dealt with serious events in the past, such as the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US.

He said he believes the situation will improve in due course, adding that the Chinese tourism market rebounded by 600% following the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003.

Mr Gibbons said that certain marketing activities in Italy have been cancelled and a planned campaign with Ryanair, due to begin next week, has been pulled back.

He said that plans for St Patrick's Day celebrations abroad continue but are being reviewed on a week-by-week basis.

Mr Gibbons added that Asian tourism markets have suffered as a result of coronavirus and there could be some "choppy months" ahead for the European market.

But he said there are good prospects for the North America and British markets this year.