Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: 'Drive-through' testing centre operating in Antrim

Illustration of the coronavirus structure Image copyright SPL
Image caption The first case of coronavirus in Northern Ireland was confirmed on Thursday

A "drive-through" coronavirus testing centre is in operation at Antrim Area Hospital.

The facility allows patients referred by a GP to be tested in their vehicle.

Meanwhile churches have recommended changes to services, including stopping physical interaction.

The first case of coronavirus in NI was diagnosed on Thursday and confirmed by laboratory tests on Saturday. Officials have said everyone in close contact with the woman had been notified.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) said: "The family has asked that their privacy is respected at this time given the personal impact of this issue. "

The PHA also confirmed 93 coronavirus tests have been carried out in Northern Ireland and 92 were negative.

Antrim Hospital is carrying out tests on patients who are referred by a GP, who must agree a test is required based on travel history and symptoms, as first reported in the Irish News.

On arrival at the hospital staff wearing protective equipment will approach their vehicle and collect necessary swabs through an open window.

A spokesperson for the trust said: "The individual is provided with information advising them of the need to self-isolate and who to contact for further advice if their symptoms worsen and they become unwell.

"This approach safeguards the hospital environment and vulnerable patients from potential exposure to Covid-19 [coronavirus]."

A similar centre was set up in Edinburgh on Friday.

Image caption A demonstration of how drive-through testing works was carried out in London

All-island strategy

On Saturday, following confirmation of the first case of coronavirus in Northern Ireland, Taoiseach (Irish PM) Leo Varadkar and the Republic's health minister Simon Harris held a conference call with political leaders in Northern to discuss how best to contain the virus.

It came as the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, has issued guidelines to parishes "due to the recent concerns surrounding the coronavirus".

A number of changes to Mass have been advised, including the sign of peace being suspended and holy water fonts not being used.

The Church of Ireland has also issued advisory guidelines to parishes which includes the recommendation that "physical interaction during services" should be suspended.

Both churches have said anyone administering Holy Communion must wash their hands and sanitise them with alcohol-based gel and that Communion must be administered into parishioners' hands and not their mouths.

Image copyright Avalon_Studio
Image caption Changes to Holy Communion have been recommended

Helpline extended

On Friday night, Health Minister Robin Swann said the NHS 111 advice helpline had replaced the PHA's coronavirus helpline in Northern Ireland.

That meant people in Northern Ireland had access to the "same level of advice as citizens in England", he added.

In the UK as a whole, the total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus, now stands at 20.

Very few details about the single confirmed case in Northern Ireland have been released by the health authorities.

However, Aer Lingus confirmed to Irish national broadcaster RTÉ that the woman travelled to Dublin on one of its flights from Italy.

It is understood she then travelled to Dublin's Connolly Street station by bus before travelling to Northern Ireland by train.

The BBC understands the woman travelled with a child.

The child is not believed to be in hospital but is awaiting test results.

The BBC understands that the woman is at her home.

Northern Ireland's public transport provider Translink said it would "take all necessary steps to prevent the spread of this virus".

It added that it had done "additional cleaning" of all cross-Irish border train carriages.

For advice and the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak, the Public Health Agency has set up a dedicated website.

Italy has become a major centre of infection and now has more than 500 cases of coronavirus, while there has been a sharp increase in the number of cases in South Korea - which now stands at 3,150.

What you need to know about coronavirus

What are the symptoms?

The main signs of infection are fever (high temperature) and a cough as well as shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

What should I do?

Frequent handwashing with soap or gel, avoiding close contact with people who are ill and not touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands can help cut the risk of infection.

Catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue, binning it and washing your hands can minimise the risk of spreading disease.

Anyone experiencing symptoms, even if mild, after travelling from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau, is advised to stay indoors and call the NHS 111 phone service.

What is the government doing?

The main focus is on rapidly identifying people with the disease and taking them to specialist hospitals for treatment in isolation.

They are then tracing anybody who has come into close contact with the patient to make sure they know the signs of the disease and what to do.


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