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Boris Johnson admits he is concerned by Leicester outbreak as lockdown looks set to remain in the city

There has been more than one million cases of Covid-19 in the 22 countries of the World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean region, the WHO confirmed on Sunday.

As of 11:00 on Sunday, 1,025,478 cases and 23,461 deaths have been recorded from the region, which spans from Morocco to Pakistan.

While cases in Europe have been largely declining, several countries in the region have been seeing increases in the number of cases and deaths. Countries recently reporting increases in cases include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, occupied Palestinian territory and Oman.

The WHO said it is especially concerned about the spread of the virus in war-torn countries such as Syria, Yemen and Libya due to poor infrastructure and fragile health systems vastly weakened by conflict. In all countries, it said, there is still a clear need for expansion of testing and more accurate reporting of cases and deaths to inform targeted responses.

Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the WHO’s regional director for the region, said: “This is a very concerning milestone. As shops, restaurants, mosques, businesses, airports and other public places begin to open up, we need to be more vigilant and cautious than ever before. One million people have been infected, tens of thousands have died, and many more are still at risk in our region.

“We cannot relax our efforts. In fact, many countries lifting restrictions are seeing marked increases in cases, which signifies the need to accelerate public health response measures. Communities must remain vigilant and play a key role in keeping themselves and their countries safe.”

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HSE concerned over differing cross-border approach

A divergence in the approach to handling a potential outbreak of coronavirus on either side of the Border is causing concern within the health service.

The UK on Thursday issued new travel advice warning its citizens to report flu-like symptoms if flying back from any of nine Asian countries. The fresh strategy came as a third British coronavirus case was found in a passenger coming from Singapore who had not been in China.

Existing advice in the Republic, based on guidance from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, is limited to travellers returning from China alone.

Britain’s approach, one that differs from its European neighbours, presents Ireland with a major challenge in a post-Brexit scenario.

Travel controls

The challenge of protecting against coronavirus could rise even further should the UK further tighten travel controls. British authorities are coming under increasing pressure to ban travellers from China, for example, a move that could see an increase in people travelling from Asia through Dublin Airport.

Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid has sought clarification from the Department of Health on the policies that would apply on both sides of the Border in the event of cases occurring in Ireland.

The HSE is particularly anxious to have clarified the arrangements that would apply in areas where cross-Border co-operation in health is well-established, such as between Co Donegal and Altnagelvin hospital in Co Derry.

“Imagine the challenge of tracing the contacts of a confirmed case in the Border area, with one set of rules in the North and another down here,” one health source said.

Reported cases

The number of reported cases rose on Friday to 31,503, the vast majority in China, with 29 cases in the EU and UK. The outbreak has caused 638 deaths.

The Department of Health’s chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said Ireland was “in the hands of” the World Health Organisation and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and would not arrive at a conclusion that was “at odds” with the stance of the two organisations.

There have been more than 30 suspected cases of the virus in Ireland to date; all tested negative. Those tested include a number of children.

Out-of-hours and on-call doctors have been supplied with protective equipment, including masks and gowns, while supplies will reach regular GPs next week, according to the HSE.

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