One health care professional was among the first four confirmed coronavirus cases in Clare and further frontline staff are expected to be diagnosed over the coming weeks posing major challenges for the Irish health service.
No particular location in Ireland will be unique in becoming a hotbed for instances of Covid-19, Dr Michael Harty has maintained. “We have very limited cases here at the moment, I don’t expect Clare will be any different to any other part of the country. It’s practically impossible to predict how it is going to spread, it would appear from the Department of Health and the HSE that we are not going to become immune to it here in Ireland and it is going to arrive”. In such a scenario, he has urged people to contact their GP before arriving to any practice to prevent further spreading of the virus.
Forty percent of the Irish population are expected to contract coronavirus, a statistic Harty believed was “a distinct possibility”. “That is a huge amount of people, the majority over eighty percent will have minor illness or will not be aware that they have got the virus at all, it is the other fifteen or twenty percent of people who would be the biggest concern from a medical point of view”.
Personnel with respiratory illnesses fall into the vulnerable category of being most at risk following its outbreak in Ireland last week as they have “less resistance than the normal population”. “It is a new virus that people don’t have any protection against or no immunity against it. It’s not like the flu, it’s different to the flu virus so any previous vaccination against flu won’t give you protection against this virus”.
“It doesn’t behave like the flu where you have a sudden onset of flu-like symptoms, you may just feel tired or have muscular aches or pains for a few days and then develop a headache, a fever or a dry cough which is quite different to the normal onset of the common cold or influenza, it has a slower onset of symptoms, you may have the virus for a couple of days or a week before symptoms appear. If you’re not having symptoms, there is a very low likelihood of you passing on that virus, it’s when you start to sneeze or cough that you are shedding the virus in large amounts”.
Speaking to The Clare Echo, the Kilmihil GP outlined that the same practices apply to everyone in trying to combat Covid-19 and that is “basic hygiene”. He said, “It is extremely important that you wash your hands thoroughly for at least twenty seconds, I would suggest that people use a nail brush to wash their hands, keep nails short, wash hands thoroughly including above the palm of your hand to your wrist. Dispose of any tissues for coughing and sneezing, they should be single use and discarded. People need to be coughing and sneezing into their elbow rather than into their hands, not to be touching their face or eyes, stop picking their nose. If you do touch your face, eyes or nose, you should wash your hands, that is one of the most important things you can do to prevent the transmission of the virus”.
Upcoming inter-county games involving the Clare senior footballers and hurlers in the Allianz Leagues may need to be reviewed on whether they should proceed, Dr. Harty felt. “We can’t prevent it coming entirely but what the Department of Health want to do is ensure everyone doesn’t get it at the same time because if they do get it at the same time our health system isn’t going to be able to cope with a large amount of people who are seriously ill”. He added, “It would make sense if that was the case that large gatherings be looked at as they are a possible source of spreading the virus”.
Public advice and guidelines are “constantly changing”, Michael noted. This initially led to individuals who were in Northern Italy returning to work whereas now anyone that has been to Lumbardy, Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna is automatically required to enter self-isolation.
“As time goes on it will be the case that many frontline workers including GPs, nurses, carers and doctors working within hospitals will come in contact with the virus. That will be a big problem if a lot of health professionals are either ill or self-isolating, how that is going to be managed is going to be quite difficult,” he warned.