Ninety suspected cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) have been tested for in Ireland, however there are still no confirmed cases here, the Department of Health has said.
The infectious disease emerged in the Wuhan region of China in December 2019. Since then, over 80,000 people have been infected and over 2,600 people have died.
While the vast majority of cases and deaths have occurred in China, the illness has been reported in 33 different countries, including some in Europe. A rapid increase in the virus has emerged in Italy in recent days, with several clusters of cases being reported in northern Italy, which have resulted in over 300 cases and 11 deaths.
As part of its continuous assessment of Ireland's preparedness for dealing with the illness, the National Public Health Emergency Team met on Tuesday. It made a number of recommendations, including:
-The cancellation of the Ireland versus Italy Six Nations rugby match on March 7 on public health grounds
-The establishment of an expert sub-group to develop criteria for the risk assessment of other mass gatherings
-An increase in the level of public awareness campaigns at ports, airports, schools and public offices, to commence immediately.
According to the Department of Health's chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, Ireland remains in a "containment phase".
"However, based on European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) guidelines, the cancellation of mass gatherings in this phase is justified in exceptional circumstances, and the recommendation to cancel the Ireland versus Italy rugby match is based on the rapidly evolving nature of the outbreak in northern Italy, and the consequent risk of importation of cases into Ireland were the match to go ahead," he explained.
In response to this, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) confirmed on Wednesday that the Ireland versus Italy match will not go ahead on March 7. The women's rugby match against Italy, which was due to be held in Energia Park in Dublin on March 8, and the under-20 men's match against Italy, which was to be held in Irish Independent Park in Cork on March 6, have also been cancelled.
Dr Holohan recommended that anyone who has been to the affected regions in northern Italy - Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont - in the last 14 days should self-isolate and phone their GP immediately if they have a cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties or fever.
"GPs are equipped to assess each case making contact with the service and may progress the case to testing if they deem it necessary, following risk assessment. Anyone who has travelled from the affected regions in northern Italy and has no symptoms should visit www.hse.ie for advice.
"The most important action we can take to protect ourselves from COVID-19 is regular hand-washing and good respiratory hygiene," he added.
It can take up to 14 days for symptoms of the virus to show. These may include a cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties and fever (high temperature).
COVID-19 can also cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia and breathing difficulties.
People are recommended to wash their hands properly and regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub, and cover their mouths and noses with a tissue when they cough and sneeze. If no tissue is available, cough into your elbow, not your hands.
For more information on COVID-19, click here.
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