Prime Time viewers question doctor's comments on potential spread of coronavirus to Ireland

Viewers of RTÉ Prime Time are questioning comments made by Dr Cillian De Gascun, who said it's reasonable for people who've been to coronavirus-infected regions of Italy to continue going to school and work during the incubation period


During Tuesday night's RTÉ Prime Time, Miriam O'Callaghan spoke with Dr Cillian De Gascun, an Irish Medical Virologist who oversees the diagnosis, management and prevention of infection. When asked about whether or not people (including schoolchildren) returning to Ireland from coronavirus-infected regions of Italy should stay home during the incubation period, he said no.

Viewers aren't convinced this is the right approach, given recent evidence that people can be infected yet asymptomatic for two weeks, and can transmit the infection to others during this period. Not only that, but school children from across the border in Northern Ireland, who are returning from similar trips in Italy, are being advised to stay at home. Viewers can't understand why there are two conflicting (and potentially health-threatening) messages on either side of the border.

'Is that cautious enough?'

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"What some people are wondering," Miriam asked, "when you compare our procedures here with across the border, the children that came back from those affected areas in the past 48 hours are being told to stay at home. Here, we're saying they can go to school. Is that cautious enough?"

Dr de Gascun replied, "I think based on the evidence we have, it's a reasonable approach for us to take in Ireland. Certainly, with the divergence in the UK following Brexit, the fact that we have two jurisdictions on the same island is not helpful. But we don't believe there is significant evidence at this point to warrant people who are asymptomatic staying out of school or staying out of work.

"Bear this in mind," he added, "schoolchildren are not exceptional. You need to apply this to everyone returning, and that would have significant implications."

Then, Miriam said, "But since there's a 14-day incubation period, surely it's prudent and cautious... you don't know whether they have it or not." To this, Dr de Gascun said, "yes, that's true."

He then repeated that these people who are asymptomatic should continue to go to school or work, but added that if they develop symptoms to self-isolate at home and to contact their GP or public health to arrange for testing to take place.

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Viewers respond

"Didn't exactly instil confidence," one Prime Time viewer commented on social media. "[He] seemed to dodge the question regarding transmission while being asymptomatic."

Another viewer said, "Truly shocking interview on RTÉ Prime Time. [The] take-home message: 'keep the economy going... forget about keeping the coronavirus out. People can be asymptomatic for two weeks and can transmit in this period," they added, "yet [we] are told to keep mingling. I call negligence."

Another said, "There have already been confirmed cases of asymptomatic transmission of the coronavirus. The incompetence is shocking! This will be a complete mess."

Meanwhile, another viewer commented, "Can't quite believe what I'm hearing about allowing kids who've returned from TY trips to Italy back to school, despite the 14-day incubation period. It's crazy. Why take the chance?"

Their questions follow advice from the HSE that the upcoming Six Nations rugby match between Ireland and Italy (which is due to take place on March 7) be cancelled.

Feature photo: RTÉ Prime Time

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Read more: HSE recommends Ireland vs Italy Six Nations game cancelled amid Coronavirus fears

Watch: Irish man shares video from inside quarantine, following evacuation from Wuhan

Read more: What is the Coronavirus and what are its symptoms?

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