The admission by the Chinese authorities that the outbreak is much more widespread than had previously been reported has been described by general practice doctors as “very alarming.”
So far, Ireland has had two probable cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and a number of suspected cases that were later cleared by doctors.
A special expert group was set up to advise Health Minister Micheal Martin and it’s due to meet to consider the situation.
Meanwhile about 300 public health doctors, who are involved in controlling infectious diseases like SARS, have been on strike since April 14 in a long-running row about conditions of service and pay.
They have picketed health authorities and the National Disease Surveillance Center headquarters.
National teams from abroad due to attend the Special Olympics have been adopted by various towns around the country. Chinese athletes are due to stay in Bray, Co. Wicklow, and those from Hong Kong are to go to Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.
The Special Olympics, which begins in June, is the world’s biggest international sporting event this year with over 7,000 athletes from 166 countries due to take part.
Labor health spokeswoman Liz McManus TD, who lives in Bray, accused the minister of failing to come up with any strategy to deal with the threat to public health posed by the spread of SARS. She said Martin had to be proactive and ensure there was a strategy in place to combat this threat.
“Closing your eyes and hoping we will escape is a very irresponsible,” she said. “It is now more than a month since the World Health Organization declared a worldwide health alert, yet Minister Martin has failed to take any visible measures to protect us from the spread of the disease.
“This is a highly infectious condition and while it has been concentrated mainly in Asia we are not in any way immune from the threat it poses.
The Labor deputy said Ireland faces an immediate problem with the return from China of many third level and language students after the Easter break. There are also a small number of pupils at fee-paying schools due to return from Hong Kong.
McManus said there is a real fear in Bray that all the work that had been put into preparing to welcome the Chinese athletes could be at risk because of lack of direction from the minister.
“There has been no response from the department of health to requests from Bray Town Council for direction,” McManus said. “Are people coming from areas hit by the condition going to be screened? Are they going to be placed in quarantine? Does the minister have any strategy at all?”