30/04/2009

Dublin Flight 'Quarantined' As Swine Flu Fears Spread

As a special 24-hour swine flu helpline was being set up this week to allay public fears of the potentially deadly virus in Northern Ireland, there was a major alert underway in Dublin.

Some 166 passengers and crew became the first Irish-bound flight to be effectively quarantined when authorities at Dublin Airport sealed off the Ryanair aircraft yesterday.

This was due to concerns over the spread of the swine flu epidemic and saw all the passengers and six crew members abroad Flight FR1987 from Nantes, France, to Dublin being effectively 'detained' for 65 minutes upon arrival.

The pilot called for medical assistance after three passengers - believed to be among four students who were travelling together - all began vomiting during the flight.

They were taken off the plane and examined by Health Service Executive medical staff for possible symptoms of swine flu, but it was only were then given the all-clear that passengers were allowed to leave the aircraft.

Meanwhile, in Belfast, the hotline, launched by Stormont Health Minister Michael McGimpsey, comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) raised its pandemic alert to phase five of six.

He noted that the Director General, Dr Margaret Chan announced the change at a press conference in Geneva: "Influenza epidemics must be taken seriously, precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world."

Three cases have now been confirmed in the UK with the latest being a 12-year-old girl in England which has helped accelerate NI precautions as the crisis deepens.
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Although no positive cases of the virus have been diagnosed in the province to date, Mr McGimpsey confirmed GPs and A&E units in Northern Ireland have received 29 inquiries and carried out 13 tests, 11 of which have been negative.

The Minister also revealed surgical masks with respirators were distributed to A&E departments across Northern Ireland for frontline staff.

Posters offering guidance have been put up at transport hubs while advice leaflets will be delivered to every home in the country in the coming days.

Four people in the Republic of Ireland tested for the virus have been given the all clear.

So far, 159 people have died from swine flu in Mexico - although only a handful have actually died as a direct result of the virus - with the first death in Texas reported yesterday, being a Mexican national.

And in Spain, where 10 people have been confirmed with swine flu, the first case was discovered of someone catching the disease without travelling to Mexico.

Northern Ireland people who are concerned about symptoms can call the new helpline - 0800 0514 142.

However, Mr McGimpsey said while Northern Ireland had "robust plans" to deal with the situation it was important people take proper steps to maintain hygiene.

"We continue to maintain the strictest surveillance and monitoring here in Northern Ireland," he said.

Acting Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland Dr Liz Mitchell said the public should feel assured the authorities are taking the appropriate action.

"I think we want to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best," she said.

See: Pandemic Level Alert Now One Step Below Global

(BMcC/JM)

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