Ireland is “not in lockdown” Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said just hours before Tánaiste Simon Coveney warned against travel to the EU in an unprecedented move.
Twenty new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed, including four healthcare workers, bringing the total number of cases to 90.
As the country scrambles to find 10,000 more hospital beds to deal with the pandemic, the threshold for testing has been dropped so that anyone who has symptoms can now be tested.
Of the 20 new cases announced last night, six are associated with travel; 12 are associated with contacts of confirmed cases, four of which are healthcare workers; and two are cases of community transmission.
Mr Coveney announced last night on Twitter that “in light of rapidly changing conditions & restrictions across a number of EU countries, my Dept is now advising people to exercise ‘a high degree of caution’ before deciding to travel to other EU States”.
Although he later clarified that this advice did not apply to the UK.
HSE boss Paul Reid has said that plans are now being made for the emergency phase of Covid-19 although he hopes that situation will be avoided.
Meanwhile, Dr Holohan emphatically denied rumours that Ireland is gearing up for a ‘status red’ coronavirus emergency.
“This is not a lockdown situation,” said Dr Holohan. “This is advice and guidance to the public around restricting the majority of social movements.
“We are not locking down the country. I’ve heard rumours of soldiers and gardaí and things like that on the street but we have no plan to do anything like that.”
However, the Irish Examiner can confirm that army troops will be put on emergency duties in all military installations from Wednesday to aid the Department of Health and the HSE in the battle against the virus.
The army is also considering using camps in Kilworth in Co Cork, the Glen of Imaal in Co Wicklow, and Kilbride in the Dublin Mountains to act as treatment centres for virus sufferers.
It comes as local garda commanders are scrambling to minimise the number of gardaí who might contract Covid-19 and to assist members with children in a bid to maintain policing services.
Senior officers said that unlike other organisations they cannot “scale down” their business, as criminals will not only continue to operate but will try to exploit the crisis.
However, numerous hotels in Kerry may be forced to close as they face floods of cancellations resulting from the sudden restrictions on events and gatherings.
In other developments:
- Europe is now the ‘epicentre’ of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation has said;
- The EU has created a €37bn emergency fund to help struggling businesses hit by coronavirus;
- Kissing of the Blarney Stone in Cork has been suspended for the first time ever in a bid to contain the virus;
- Sex toy sales are soaring as people are urged to stay at home alone;
- Driving tests have been suspended until March 29;
- The HSE sets up pop-up testing centres run by the National Ambulance Service in communities across the country;
- Senior gardaí have been asked to delay retirement “in the national interest”;
- Unions including the INMO, ASTI, INTO, and TUI have postponed their conferences;
- Children can still play outside and in small groups, the National Public Health Emergency Team has said;
- AIB is suspending the planned introduction of the contactless payments fee;
- GoBus has suspended its services;
- A maximum of 30% of TDs have been asked to attend the Dáil for a vote to pass emergency Covid-19 legislation.