Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

20.06 13 Feb 2020


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The HSE says it does not believe legal powers of 'forced isolation' for suspected coronavirus patients would ever be used.

The power would be used in cases where patients were refusing to comply.

Similar powers exist for other diseases such as smallpox and TB - and officials hope to add the new coronavirus to the list.

The HSE says the Department of Health has agreed to add it to the list, but nothing has happened yet.

There has been no case of the virus in Ireland yet, although there have been at least 65 suspected cases - and authorities say it's still likely we will see a case here.

The HSE's Dr Kevin Kelleher said they want the option to compel patients, but it's likely to be unnecessary as most people willingly go into hospital.

He explained: "We do have powers, and we would use those powers if necessary.

"On the whole, we invariably can use persuasion to get people to do this, and we've not used the powers more than 10-12 times over 20 or 30 years."

In a statement, the HSE itself noted: "[Officials intend] to add Covid19 to the list of infectious diseases such as smallpox, which allows a doctor to detain a probable case of infection in the highly unlikely event that a person refuses to comply with infection prevention and control protocols.

"This was also done for the SARS epidemic in 2002. It is not envisaged that such powers would in fact be used."

Earlier, European health ministers met in Brussels for an emergency meeting on the coronavirus.

Speaking afterwards, Simon Harris said there were not currently any identified medical supply issues as a result of the epidemic in China.

He also said it was "encouraging" to hear the World Health Organisation saying they were planning to step up supports for countries at highest risk.

There have now been almost 50,000 cases of the coronavirus detected in Hubei province in China, while the death toll has risen to over 1,300.

Main image: A medical staff works in the negative-pressure isolation ward in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for critical COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. Picture by: Yuan Zheng/Utuku/Ropi/Zuma Press/PA Images

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