School closure defended after student confirmed as coronavirus patient

Ireland’s chief medical officer has defended the decision to close a secondary school after it was confirmed a student was diagnosed with coronavirus.

Dr Tony Holohan said the move to shut the school for two weeks was a “proportionate measure”.

Dr Holohan also said he believes the risk of the infection spreading in Ireland is still low.

It was confirmed on Saturday night that the male student who lives in the east of the country contracted the virus in one of the affected areas of northern Italy.

The school has been closed for 14 days from today, during which all pupils and teachers are being asked to restrict their movements.

Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Dr Holohan said authorities are not naming the school to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the patient.

Dr Holohan said that health officials carried out an assessment of the case which concluded in the closure of the school.

“We felt this was a proportionate measure and I (want) to stress that we believe that the risk of transmission infection, even despite the contact, will still be low,” he said.

In a letter sent to parents from the HSE, it was confirmed that children, teachers and school staff have been advised to limit their social interactions, avoid social gatherings and not attend sporting events.

“This measure is focused on the children, it’s not focused on their families and it’s not focused on the wider community,” Dr Holohan added.

“Each of the parents will get a text message on each of the days of the incubation period, asking whether or not their child or staff member have symptoms and if 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 identify another case.”

Health officials are also working to identify everyone who came in close contact with the infected student.

A number of local sports clubs confirmed that they have cancelled training and matches in response to the confirmed coronavirus case.

However, Dr Holohan said these steps were not necessary.

“I understand why people may make recommendations like that but we are not recommending such things,” he added.

“I’ve seen some things on social media myself where people have expressed concern about driving through a specific area as a result of the information that’s on social media.

“These concerns have no basis in fact whatsoever.”

“Anybody who has access to social media has access to HSE.ie. The information there is absolutely comprehensive, it’s trustworthy and that’s the source of information parents should use.

“Much of the information that circulates on social media is false and people cannot trust that as a source of information.”

Asked about upcoming public events, including the St Patrick’s Day celebrations, Dr Holohan said health officials are continuing to assess whether or not they will go ahead.

He added: “We do recognise that there may be a very small number of very large significant national events where organisers will wish to have advice.

“We will be anxious to engage with the organisers of those and we see no immediate implications for some of the mass gatherings,” he added.

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