Coronavirus is “highly likely” to reach Northern Ireland, but people should not panic, a virologist at Queen’s University Belfast has said.
Fifty-two people in Northern Ireland have been tested for the virus.
The results have all been negative, the Public Health Agency (PHA) said.
However, Dr Lindsay Broadbent of Queen University’s Centre for Infection and Immunity, said it would be a surprise if there were no cases here in the future.
“At this stage with the number of cases in Europe it would be a surprise if does not affect Northern Ireland,” she told BBC News NI.
She was speaking as a professor of microbiology at Trinity College Dublin said it was inevitable that coronavirus will arrive in Ireland.
Northern Ireland ‘Likely to spread’
Dr Kim Roberts told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the virus is becoming more difficult to contain and that there has been an increase in the number of cases in different countries over the past number of days.
Dr Broadbent said that it will most likely reach Northern Ireland through travel.
“There have been no cases so far in the UK that have been UK-to-UK contact,” she said.
“Everyone has either come from abroad or been in contact with someone who has returned.
“So it isn’t widespread yet, there’s no epidemic within the UK at the minute, but it is certainly likely to spread in the coming weeks and months.”
Dr Broadbent said that the health service in Northern Ireland has done “an awful lot” to prepare for the arrival of coronavirus.
“Hopefully, if containment measures stay in place, it will allow the NHS to treat any isolated cases coming through in a timely manner,” she said.
“The only worry is if there is a huge influx in cases that we don’t have the ability to treat hundreds or thousands of cases at once.
“But certainly there have been procedures put in place and isolation pods set up in every hospital in the UK.”
Health Minister Robin Swann has said “tried and tested infection control procedures” were being used to prevent the spread of the virus.
He added any confirmed cases in Northern Ireland would be admitted to the infectious disease unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
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Northern Ireland ‘Not worth panicking’
Dr Broadbent said one good thing about the virus was that it did not affect young people severely, with the fatality rate for young adults and children comparable to seasonal flu.
“It’s definitely not worth panicking about at this stage. It’s not a serious disease for the majority of people,” she said.
“As long as people are aware if they start to feel ill, if they start to have flu-like symptoms, that they stay at home for a few days, phone their GP, just keep an eye on how they’re feeling and how those around them are feeling then there’s really nothing else to prepare for.
“No-one needs to be stockpiling food or fuel, nothing like that.
“If anything, employers need to just be aware that there may be a few more sick days than usual, but nothing needs to be shut down.”
Meanwhile, County Antrim-based Randox Health is one of a number of companies worldwide to develop a diagnostic test for coronavirus.
The company says its test also diagnoses nine other respiratory infections, as well as Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
Randox senior manager Mark Campbell said the company was closely engaged with the NHS and “countries around the world”.
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