The Deputy Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health has said health authorities in Ireland are "well rehearsed" in deploying protocols at airports and ports to deal with any confirmed case of coronavirus, known as Covid-19.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Dr Ronan Glynn reiterated the view of the department that he "would not be surprised if Ireland had a confirmed case of the virus."

He said that, as on Monday evening, 78 people had been tested for the virus here.

Dr Glynn advised any Irish citizen, who has come back from mainland China, who thinks they may have come into contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, or who has been in a hospital or similar setting where people with confirmed cases of the virus have been treated to follow protocols that have been issued to travellers from China.

He also urged people who have travelled back from China, and who may think they have symptoms, not to go to their GP or an emergency department.

Dr Glynn said people who are concerned should contact public health authorities, and/or call emergency services.

"You will be risk assessed over the phone, and if necessary an ambulance will take you to an appropriate hospital with isolation facilities. This is for your own protection and for the protection of your loved ones."

He added that "every receiving hospital in the country has isolation facilities."

It should reassure people, Dr Glynn said, that health authorities in Ireland have proven the effectiveness of protocols to deal with similar outbreaks - namely MERS, SARS and the flu pandemic.

He added that the containment of the virus across Europe, where comparable health systems are in place, should also offer reassurance to people in Ireland.


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Dr Glynn said that people are at "greater risk from flu at the moment than they are from the coronavirus."

He explained that the coronavirus seems to spread easily, when compared to other similar outbreaks.

"There were 8,000 cases of MERS, 2,000 of SARS and there are 75,000 cases of this virus, so it does seem to spread easily.

"But when you look at the fatality rate of each virus, one in three died from MERS, one in ten died from SARS, and at the moment the fatality rate of Covid-19 is 2%."

He explained that often in the early stages of a disease outbreak the cases that tend to be picked up are those which are more severe, and as more becomes known about the overall number of cases, it is likely that the fatality rate associated with this virus will decrease.

Meanwhile, Kingston Mills, Professor of Experimental Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, said the 621 cases of the virus discovered on a cruise ship in Japan should not cause panic in Ireland.

He said air traffic is still the most likely method were the virus to spread here.

"It would appear it has peaked in terms of transmission ... really it's airline traffic, so it's traffic from flights in China, none directly to Dublin or Ireland, but there are to other European countries so that's the biggest risk Ireland is facing - somebody coming on a flight from China via another European country and then bringing it on to Ireland."