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Doctors ordered to ramp up infection testing as Covid-19 claims its first victim in Republic

ealth chiefs declare global crisis a pandemic

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Heuston Station’s piano for commuters has been put out of service due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Heuston Station’s piano for commuters has been put out of service due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Heuston Station’s piano for commuters has been put out of service due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Doctors have been told to dramatically ramp up testing for the coronavirus following the death of the first patient in the Republic from the illness.

The tragedy, involving an older patient who had a range of underlying illnesses, comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the crisis a pandemic.

The HSE's chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said doctors are now being told to widen the net for testing to include more patients who have severe acute respiratory illness or diagnosed pneumonia either in hospitals or in the community.

The measures were announced as another nine cases of the virus were confirmed including six men in the south and east of the country who had travelled to Italy or Austria.

Three more people were infected by another positive patient, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Republic to 43.

The frail patient who died is understood to have been treated in Naas General Hospital for some time before being tested as she had not been abroad and the source of her infection was unknown.

Schools

Dr Holohan extended his condolences to her family and appealed to the public to follow health advice.

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HSE chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan urged people to limit social interactions’

HSE chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan urged people to limit social interactions’

HSE chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan urged people to limit social interactions’

A Cabinet sub-committee led by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meets tomorrow and the closure of schools after St Patrick's Day until after the Easter holidays may be considered.

Dr Holohan again resisted calls from doctors and Green Party TDs to step up restrictions in an effort to keep the spread until control and avoid a spike.

He said he did not envisage other gatherings being cancelled at this stage, but warned it was important that people organising events and attending them followed the rules on handwashing and respiratory etiquette.

"Shaking hands and close personal contact are to be avoided," Dr Holohan added.

"The public should consider how to limit social interactions and avoid indoor, crowded spaces."

Around 2,300 people have been tested for the virus so far but this figure will now rise dramatically as more labs in Cork, Waterford and Limerick take on work.

Hundreds of hospital appointments for patients in need of surgery or a specialist appointment continued to be cancelled yesterday.

St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin has issued an appeal to members of the public, such as retired nurses, who could provide support to come forward as the expected surge in patients suffering severe illness from the virus will put a strain on staff who may need to self-isolate.

The call has gone out for medical staff, nursing, auxiliary nurses, administrative staff, security and catering staff.

The email address is prepare@svhg.ie.

Meanwhile there is some hope on the horizon for better treatments,

Luke O'Neill, Professor of Biochemistry at Trinity College, said there are two types of drugs in development that suppress inflammation in the lungs in severe cases.

Two drugs have shown efficacy - chloroquine, which is used for malaria, and tocilizumab, which is currently approved for arthritis. Both are safe and trials have shown efficacy regarding survival.

Remdesivir, an anti-viral drug, is made by a company called Gilead. It was developed for Ebola but has been shown to work against the virus that causes Covid-19.

"There are at least 20 companies developing vaccines. Moderna are out front - they tried a vaccine in humans recently. It is nine to 12 months away as safety checks and efficacy must be confirmed," Prof O'Neill said.

"So there's great hope - although these treatments are a few months away. I predict Remdesivir will be available in one to two months."

WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for urgent and aggressive action on the coronavirus.

The immediate closure of schools and banning of marriage, baptism and funeral ceremonies are among measures that the Green Party wants to be considered in response to the virus outbreak.

The Greens have written to all party leaders and health spokespersons seeking urgent discussions on their proposals to tackle the crisis.

In a statement yesterday, the Green Party said it is concerned that measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 should be taken sooner.

Casualties

"Bearing in mind the experience of other countries which are more advanced along the course of this epidemic, we are concerned that delaying these measures may result in a larger number of casualties. With exponential infection growth, every day counts," it added.

The party said the best public health advice must be followed, but decisions relating to the economy go beyond the scope of clinical decisions.

"We also believe that these decisions should be made on an all-party consensus basis," it added.

The party has written to the Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail to ask him to chair such talks.

Green Party health spokesman Ossian Smyth said: "People are aware that the decisions taken about how to deal with this virus are now critical.

"They want to know why business as usual at work and in education is continuing and why measures are being delayed as the rate of new cases accelerates by the day.

"They want to know if early and aggressive intervention would be more effective."

Mr Smyth questioned why actions like the closure of universities and businesses are being taken by the individual organisations themselves, rather than by government.

"People want their politicians to show leadership in the common interest at this time of crisis," he added.

The party listed possible measures it wants to see discussed, including all companies immediately enforcing a work-from-home policy where possible.