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Scramble for flights as Government advises all Irish to leave China

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Security personnel at a checkpoint in Jiujiang, China. Photo: Reuters

Security personnel at a checkpoint in Jiujiang, China. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

Security personnel at a checkpoint in Jiujiang, China. Photo: Reuters

Irish people in coronavirus-hit China, who were advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday to leave unless their presence in the country was essential, face a scramble to get out on increasingly scarce airline flights.

The message, posted on the department's website which is still confusingly dated "January", says it "advises citizens to contact their travel agency or airlines regarding available routes out before any further restrictions may be imposed".

However, Irish people who have family, jobs and home obligations are expected to stay in China despite the lockdown of many areas and the infection of more than 20,000 with the virus and a death toll of 427.

For those who want to leave, flying out of Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus outbreak, is impossible.

A department spokesman did not respond to queries on whether it will help with repatriation.

Airlines around the world are reducing or stopping their services to China.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic recently grounded their flights due to the outbreak.

Several other airlines are continuing to operate flights, including Air China, China Southern Airlines, and Shenzhen Airlines.

Those which have reduced their services are Air Canada, Air India, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, LOT Polish Airlines and Philippines Airlines.

Three Irish nationals travelled on a British rescue flight last week organised by the RAF to take over 100 people to the England from Wuhan.

Meanwhile, Irish GPs have been told that patients and practice team members should not be alarmed as it is still more likely that anyone with flu-like symptoms will have the flu rather than the coronavirus.

Isolation

"The most important thing is that any patient who thinks they may have symptoms should not try to attend the GP surgery, out-of-hours service or hospital emergency departments in person," according to the Irish College of General Practitioners.

Patients are being advised to first ring ahead to inform the receptionist if they have recently travelled to Wuhan, before a decision is taken by the GP or emergency department as to where the patient will be seen.

If a patient arrives at a GP surgery with potential symptoms and recently travelled to an affected area, the GP should try to place them in isolation, where possible.

"We recommend having a notice at reception with alcohol rub and surgical masks available," it added.

The National Public Health Emergency Team met yesterday afternoon in the Department of Health, to review the available international data and guidance regarding the outbreak.

It claimed that Ireland is well positioned to detect and respond to a case of the virus that might arise here.

As of last night, there were no confirmed cases in Ireland.

An Expert Advisory Group has been established.

It will function as an expert sub-group, that will provide advice to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHE), the HSE and others.

The NPHE will meet again next Tuesday.