Additional reporting by Press association and Digital Desk staff
Patients will now have to display two major symptoms of Covid-19 to qualify for testing.
These include a fever and either a cough or shortness of breath, whilst also falling into a priority group, such as close contact of confirmed cases, healthcare staff or vulnerable groups.
At the latest briefing held by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) in Dublin the chief medical officer Tony Holohan said that the official definition for the disease in an Irish context had been changed.
The new wording, adopted from the World Health Organization’s own definition, sees the symptoms of the disease now being ringfenced as a fever together with at least one other sign of respiratory problems such as a cough or shortness of breath.
The change has been instigated in order to reduce the number of people who almost certainly don’t have the illness from presenting for a test, Dr Holohan said, due to the extremely high numbers of people who have asked for a test in the past ten days - a daily rate of 20,000.
Over the last 10 days, something of the order of about 20,000 or so people today have sought testing.
“If we were to test that amount we would become by a considerable distance the number one country in the world for testing,” Dr Holohan said.
“What that says to us is that a lot of people coming forward are people who are not appropriate for testing, and we need to think about focusing our case definition to identify people with high probability of having this particular infection.”
Leo Varadkar has introduced a number of sweeping measures to tackle the coronavirus, including restricting all public gatherings to four people.
The Taoiseach said all non-essential retail should close, including all theatres, clubs and bingo halls, and that people should work from home unless absolutely essential.
Urging everyone to stay at home to slow the spread of Covid-19, Mr Varadkar said the public has to do more to flatten the curve of the coronavirus outbreak.
Today, we announced new actions to help stop the spread of Covid 19. I am asking you to stay at home if at all possible. You should only leave home to go to work, if you have to, & only go to the shops for essential supplies. We need to flatten the curve & suppress this virus. pic.twitter.com/VO3fM3ckwo— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) March 24, 2020
The measures were introduced on the day when the seventh coronavirus-linked death was announced. The victim was a male from the east of the country with an underlying health condition.
There were 204 new cases confirmed in the state on Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,329.
Mr Varadkar said that all sporting events, even those behind closed doors, are cancelled.
Speaking at Government Buildings in Dublin on Tuesday, he said: “People should stay at home if at all possible – this is the best way to slow the virus.”
Mr Varadkar said all cafes and restaurants should limit supply to takeaway only.
He confirmed the Government is to increase the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Support payment for people who have been laid off due to the virus from 203 euro to 350 euro per week.
The payment will also apply to the self-employed who are affected by Covid-19.
An emergency wage subsidy scheme was also confirmed, under which the Government will pay 70% of a worker’s salary up to a cap of 410 euro per week net – equivalent to the after-tax income of a worker on around 40,000 euro.
Mr Varadkar said all gatherings outdoors are limited to a maximum of four people but not in the case of families.
He said more park rangers will be present to ensure social distancing measures are complied with.
Gardai will “increase interventions” to ensure compliance with the measures but such interventions will be used “sparingly”, he said.
Mr Varadkar said private hospitals “will act effectively as public hospitals” for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “Private hospitals have agreed to do this on a not-for-profit basis.
“Public and private patients will be treated equally.”
Health Minister Simon Harris said patients with Covid-19 will be treated for free in a single national hospital service.
Today our Public Health Emergency Team has made important recommendations in our efforts to slow the spread of #coronavirus. Thank you for all you are doing. Together, we must now do more. Together, we will save lives #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/zaer7Hw99O— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) March 24, 2020
Mr Harris said all private hospitals will be public or run by the State for the duration of the pandemic.
He said: “There can be no public vs private here.”
Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said the measures have had to be stepped up due to the fact more than 1,000 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the Republic.
He said: “Forty-five per cent of the cases have been community transmission where we have not been able to identify the original source through contact tracing and one in four of the cases are healthcare workers.
“We need to move rapidly, comprehensively and quickly. That is why we have stepped up the measures.”
Mr Varadkar said he did not want to describe the new measures in the Republic of Ireland as a “lockdown”.
“I wouldn’t use the term lockdown. It is a term that causes a lot more confusion than clarity and is therefore one that I don’t intend to use.”
Mr Varadkar said any person in a household who is asked to self-isolate because a fellow householder is showing symptoms is entitled to illness benefit at a rate of 350 euro per week.
“The Covid-19 illness benefit will also apply to household members who are also being asked to self-isolate but do not have the virus themselves,” Mr Varadkar added.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said the country is “accosted by a pandemic that knows no border or boundaries”.
Speaking at a Government briefing in Dublin, Mr Donohoe said: “If this public health crisis is like no other, than this economic crisis is also very different to others.
“It requires a different response. It needs speed and it needs scale and this is because the very severe disruption that has occurred has placed otherwise healthy and viable businesses in jeopardy.
“The wage subsidy screen agreed today is a payment to employers to encourage them to retain employees on their payroll during this period.
“It will be available to all employers who suffer either a minimum of 25% decline in turnover, an inability to pay normal wages and outgoings and other circumstances.
“For the next 12 weeks such employers will be supported in the order of 70% of an employee’s income and the maximum weekly tax free payment will be 410 euro per employee.”
Minister for Business Heather Humphreys said: “We want to ensure that businesses are able to keep their employees on their books so that when we come out the other side, Ireland and our citizens can get back to work as quickly as possible.
“By keeping that crucial link between the employer and the employee, we will be best placed to kick-start the economy once again.
“It’s also worth remembering that for many firms there are ways to use this time productively.
“It could be an opportunity to put staff on online training courses, get feedback from employees, consider how you could make your business leaner, more innovative and more competitive and draw plans to improve productivity.”
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, said the predicted number of 400,000 job losses is a conservative figure.
She added: “I think it’s almost impossible to predict the scale of the employment loss.
“I know I’m on record of one day last week predicting that maybe some 400,000 jobs may go, but I actually believe that this is a conservative figure, because the job losses of the scale expected will pose a threat of significant societal effects.
“I think that’s why since the crisis first began, we immediately introduced a system of emergency payments to get money into people’s hands, fast, until we had designed a more robust response.”
The National Public Health Emergency Team has recommended that all non-essential retail outlets should close to members of the public in Ireland.
All other retail outlets are to implement social distancing.
Here is a list of what are considered essential outlets:
– Retail and wholesale sale of food, beverages and newspapers in non-specialised and specialised stores
– Retail sale of household consumer products necessary to maintain the safety and sanitation of residences and businesses
– Pharmacies/chemists and retailers providing pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical or dispensing services
– Retail sale of medical and orthopaedic goods in specialised stores
– Fuel stations and heating fuel providers
– Retailers involved in the repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles, bicycle repair and related facilities
– Retail sale of essential items for the health and welfare of animals, including animal feed and medicines, pet food and supplies including bedding
– Laundries and dry cleaners
– Banks, post offices and credit unions
– Retail sale of safety supply (eg, work clothes, personal protective equipment)
– Hardware stores, builders’ merchants and stores that provide hardware products necessary for home and business maintenance, sanitation and farm equipment, supplies and tools essential for gardening/farming/agriculture
– Retail sale of office products and services for people working from home and for businesses
– Retailers providing electrical, IT and phone sales, repair and maintenance services for homes
The above outlets must implement the following social distancing measures:
– Ensure adequate distancing between customers and retail assistants in line with public health guidelines
– Only let people into the store in small groups and ensure spaces are not crowded
– Manage queues inside and outside the door
– Consider designating certain times of the day to facilitate vulnerable groups
– Provide online services where possible and appropriate to minimise footfall
– Offer contactless payment where possible
Parents are encouraged to avoid taking children when visiting essential retail outlets.