From top: Scoil Chaitriona, Glasnevin, Dublin 9; Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer at the Department of Health; letter sent from HSE/Department of Health to parents of pupils attending
Bryan Dobson spoke to chief medical officer Tony Holohan on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
It follows the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the Republic of Ireland, prompting the closure of a Dublin secondary school for two weeks. Officials are not publicly naming the school however it has been identified as Scoil Chaitriona in Dublin 9 on social media last night.
A student at the school tested positive for the virus after returning from northern Italy. He is being treated in isolation in hospital.
Bryan Dobson: “What’s the situation in so far as you can discuss it in relation to this individual at the moment?”
Tony Holohan: “So we confirmed on Saturday that we have had our first case as you say. We’re one of the last countries in Europe to identify a case of this infection. We’ve identified that it is a male from the east of the country. We’ve said the case is associated with travel back to the country from an infected area, in this case northern Italy.
“That’s the amount of information that we’ll generally give with any confirmed cases when we have then. We don’t go further in terms of details for reasons I’d be happy to explain but it’s about protecting the privacy and the confidentiality of the individual concerned and to ensure that we can continue to commit to the public that if they respond to the symptoms and to the advice that we’ve given out in relation to symptoms and they make contact with the health service, their confidentiality will be protected.
“They can be assured that we’ll do everything we can to protect them and that would give the greatest chance, we feel, of people coming forward freely, willingly, to report symptoms.”
Dobson: “Ok, I’ll come back to this question of the amount of information you can give at any given time in a few minutes. But, just in relation to the school then, at the centre of this, it’s closing now for 14 days. But what of the advice to staff and pupils there and their families. Staff and pupils are being told, is that right, to limit their social interaction for the next fortnight? What does that mean?”
Holohan: “So this step results from the process of risk assessment that was undertaken as a result of the contact tracing exercise by public health doctors that was undertaken once we were notified of this particular case. And it identify a school in the east of the country.
“The assessments of the public health doctors in relation to the contacts in the school led to conclude that this measure was needed. What it means, a series of measures, and it’s been set out in letter to each of the parents that we sent last night, advising that the children and the teachers in the school staff, staff in the school, would limit their social interactions in so far as is possible. They would avoid social gatherings and crowded settings, that they wouldn’t attend school or work or sporting events and a range of other practical things like that.
“This is a measure which is focused on the children and the staff of the school. It’s not focused on their families and it’s not focused on the wider community.
“That message that was contained in the letter was supported also by the establishment of of a telephone helpline and details were set out in the letter to the parents and also will be supported by a public meeting tonight and details of that will be made available. I know that the HSE are making arrangements to have a meeting this evening, to answer questions that the local community and the parents in particular will have.
“There will be follow-up by public health doctors so each of the parents will get a text message on each of the days of the incubation period, asking them whether or not their child, or whether they as a staff member have symptoms. And, in the event that they say ‘yes’ to that text message, they will have follow-up engagement with public health doctors.
“The purpose of that is to, at the earliest possible stage, to identify if another case or if anybody comes unwell, as soon as possible.”
Dobson: “But just to be clear about this. The parents who have children in this school and other family members, they can continue to go about their lives as normal, go into college, school, work and so forth?”
Holohan: “Yes they can because just to explain that to you Bryan. The assessment of the public health doctors relates to the contact of these children and staff may have had with the case.
“The concern does not go beyond that to people who have had contact with those individuals, if you understand me. So it’s only people who might have come into direct contact with somebody who has now been confirmed as a case. So there aren’t wider implications for families or for the community.”
Dobson: “So in terms of a student in a school, it’s fairly obvious to state that people they sit in class with or teachers they would have that close contact. But what about other people who may have had close contact with them, you know, on public transport, in the street and other such gatherings? Are those people being traced aswell?”
Holohan: “So the contact tracing exercise is comprehensive and it looks at all of those exposures that might occur. And it’s all based on interviews with the family concerned, with the case concerned, to try and identify exactly those things that you’ve outlined there. But the significant thing that’s been identified as part of this was that there was a school involved and the risk assessment has led to this decision and this recommendation.”
Dobson: “You’ve made the point before and you’re making it again that you’d like people to get their information from people like yourself, from the HSE, from what are often described as trusted media sources. But, in effect, by declining to identify, in this case, the particular school, are you not driving people to social media, where they’re looking for this information?”
Holohan: “So, anybody who has access to social media has access to hse.ie. The information there is absolutely comprehensive, it’s trustworthy. That’s the source of information that parents should use….Much of the information that is circulated on social media, it’s false. It’s simply false and people cannot trust that as a source of information unless they know that through that particular medium, it’s coming from a trusted source.”
Listen back in full here
Pic: Daniel McConnell