Coronavirus: 40,000 close contacts ‘will have to be traced’ by end of week

Irish residents advised not to leave country as exponential leap in cases expected

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned of an “exponential increase” in confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the coming days.

 

Irish residents have been advised not to leave the island until March 29th as the number of coronavirus cases is forecast to reach 1,300 by the end of the week.

Everyone entering the country, including Irish residents, is being told to restrict their movements for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms, the National Public Health Emergency Team said last night. The restriction does not apply to Northern Ireland.

A further 54 new confirmed cases were reported on Monday evening, the biggest daily increase yet seen. Most were in the east (41 cases), followed by the south (11).

The Republic now has a total of 223 confirmed cases of Covid-19, while Northern Ireland has 52.

By the end of the week, 40,000 people who are close contacts of confirmed cases will have to be traced, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan told journalists.

Latest developments

Earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said cases would rise by 30 per cent every day and could reach 15,000 by the end of the month.

“That is inevitable, that cannot be stopped. We are at the very start of that curve. So there will be a very significant increase in the number of cases every day for the next couple of weeks.”

New enforcement powers to enable the State to close mass gatherings and venues with the force of law and to detain and isolate people on public health grounds are planned in legislation to be published later this week.

The Taoiseach said the Government had secured more ventilators but said he could not guarantee there would be enough to meet the potential demand.

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Mr Varadkar warned the economy would slow down dramatically and that not all businesses that closed would be in a position to reopen. Up to 140,000 could lose their jobs in the short term given the closure of pubs and clubs, and some restaurants.

National plan

The Government last night published a national plan on Covid-19. It states that the key objective for Ireland is slowing the rate of spread of the disease, as well as reducing the number of people who become infected “as much as possible”.

“With the appropriate concerted and co-ordinated national response, there is scope for Ireland to reduce the spread of infection and minimise the impact for everyone and especially those in our society who are most likely to be affected more seriously by the disease,” the plan says.

Officials acknowledged many patients were having to wait days before being tested. The build-up over the weekend worsened on Monday morning, when the HSE’s new online system for booking tests failed and had to be replaced by an email system.

Dublin GP Dr Mark Murphy said he had been unable to get any patient tested for Covid-19 for about six days, adding that “most GPs would have a similar experience”.

Testing is available in 19 sites, and the HSE plans to expand availability to 34 locations.

Croke Park is to be used as a temporary testing centre for coronavirus in north Dublin from Tuesday, the HSE has said. The service will be “drive-thru” rather than “walk-in”, local residents have been told.

Efforts are continuing to get retired doctors to return to work in the current emergency.

“The precise roles that the HSE are seeking to fill or other employment details are not yet clear, nor are the details in relation to Medical Council registration and indemnity, but we expect these to be resolved in the coming days,” the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland told its members.

An Garda Síochána said it would use more than 200 vehicles it is renting to assist vulnerable and isolated members of the public with vital tasks, such as collecting prescription drugs or bringing them to medical appointments.

Elena (7) and Lucy (5) Tintori visiting their grandmother Sheela separated by glass. Photograph: Tom Honan
Elena (7) and Lucy (5) Tintori visiting their grandmother Sheela separated by glass. Photograph: Tom Honan

Online misinformation

The HSE also advised Covid-19 patients on Monday it was okay for them to take paracetamol and an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen at the same time. Its statement was issued in response to false information circulating online.

The economic impact of the coronavirus measures sent share prices sharply lower, with the US Dow Jones index losing almost 13 per cent in a frantic sell-off. The drop came despite a cut in US interest rates announced late on Sunday and measures to support lending from international central banks. Earlier in Dublin the Iseq index lost 8 per cent, with shares in Ryanair and the banks dropping sharply.

The World Health Organisation called on all countries on Monday to ramp up their testing programmes as the best way to slow the advance of the pandemic, and also urged companies to boost production of vital equipment to overcome acute shortages.

“We have a simple message to all countries – test, test, test,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom told a news conference in Geneva, calling the pandemic “the defining global health crisis of our time”.

“All countries should be able to test all suspected cases. They cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded.” Without testing, cases cannot be isolated and the chain of infection will not be broken, he said.