Additional reporting by Aoife Moore
“Significant” additional restrictions on public gatherings and business closures across the country will be announced today, at the same time that Britain is placed on a draconian lockdown for at least three weeks.
As two further deaths related to Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland, the Cabinet here is expected to introduce further restrictions to public gatherings in a bid to “harmonise” as much as possible with the North and Britain.
The audacious bid by British prime minister Boris Johnson to contain the coronavirus represents the greatest restriction of public movement in Britain since the Second World War.
Here, ministers will today consider recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), which is expected to extend the shutdown of schools and non-essential businesses beyond March 29.
The Government said it has asked NPHET to consider at its weekly meeting tomorrow its latest advice regarding public interactions and some other matters.
“Any updated advice from NPHET will be considered when the Cabinet meets tomorrow. Cabinet will also consider new legislation related to the Covid emergency,” the spokesman said.
Asked if Ireland will follow Mr Johnson’s lead, the spokesman said it “would follow the medical advice”.
“To date, public compliance with the physical distance measures has generally been good, but in some cases there clearly is a need to reinforce the message of maintaining an adequate distance, especially for public places,” said a Government spokesperson.
The death yesterday of two men in the east of the country who had been diagnosed with Covid-19 brings to six the number of fatalities in Ireland.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre confirmed there were 219 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 yesterday, the highest daily increase yet, bringing to 1,125 the number of confirmed cases in the Republic.
The Government’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, said that Ireland is still in the “early stages of the crisis” and that “more deaths are likely”.
He said he would not release the ages of the men who died, as the number of deaths is still small, but said that, as those numbers increase, the ages will be released.
Dr Holohan, responding to reports of large public gatherings at beaches and parks over the weekend, said this is not a virus of the elderly, and called on all people to exercise personal responsibility.
Dr Holohan highlighted an issue of some publicans continuing to open for business despite the call to shut down until March 29.
He said that, in such cases, under new powers signed into law, the minister can ask the gardaí to enforce against such premises.
Major food outlets and banks have moved to close their doors because of the impact of the crisis.
Bank of Ireland will temporarily close 101 branches from today, while 161 will remain open.
The bank said it had seen a reduction in footfall in its branches, while it was seeing an increase in customers needing a different range of supports.
Simon Coveney has been tested for Covid-19, but has been assured he has not contracted the virus, he told the Irish Examiner.
The Tánaiste was tested after being contacted by the HSE in recent days to alert him that he had been in direct contact with someone who had tested positive.
“Like thousands of people across the country, I was contacted in recent days by a member of the HSE contact tracing team to say I had been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for Covid-19,” Mr Coveney told the Irish Examiner.
The World Health Organization has warned that the coronavirus pandemic is “accelerating” as the number of confirmed cases passes the 300,000 mark.
The agency said it took 67 days from the first reported case to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000, and just four days for the third 100,000 cases.