Coveney attended meeting with Austrian minister later positive for Covid-19

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Updated: 4.50pm. Additional reporting by Reuters.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney attended a meeting on Monday with his Austrian counterpart, who has since tested positive for Covid-19.

Austrian foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg may have caught the virus at the meeting with his European Union counterparts, a spokeswoman for his ministry said today.

Mr Schallenberg’s infection raises the prospect that the EU Foreign Affairs Council was a so-called super-spreader event. His Belgian counterpart Sophie Wilmes said on Friday she was going into self-isolation with suspected symptoms.

“It is suspected that Schallenberg might have been infected at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on Monday,” the Austrian spokeswoman said, adding that he did not have symptoms and had been tested as a routine measure.

Mr Coveney travelled to the meeting in Luxembourg and confirmed to the Irish Times on Saturday that he held a bilateral meeting with Mr Schallenberg following the council.

The bilateral took place in the Irish delegation rooms in Luxembourg and was convened to discuss Brexit and also the European Peace Facility, which is of common interest to Ireland and Austria as they are both neutral countries.

Around five people attended the meeting which which lasted around 15 minutes and involved social distancing of at least two metres.

A close contact of Covid-19 can mean “spending more than 15 minutes of face-to-face contact within two metres of someone who has Covid-19, indoor or outdoor,” according to the Health Service Executive (HSE) website.

Mr Coveney told the paper he found out about Mr Schallenberg’s diagnosis earlier today and intends to contact the HSE to establish how he should proceed and if he will be considered a close contact of his Austrian counterpart.

Mr Coveney has tested negative for the disease and has been limiting his movements to essential work only, which involves travelling to the Dáil, Cabinet meetings, work in the Department and his own offices.

Mr Coveney attended a socially distanced Cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss enhanced measures to control the virus in Ireland, where he was not in the same room as the Taoiseach, Tánaiste or Minister for Health. It is understood that there were at least two other Ministers in the meeting room with Mr Coveney during the Cabinet meeting.

This article was amended on October 17th. Minister of State Thomas Byrne did not attend the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting on October 12th.



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