Coronavirus: New measures to combat spread in Ireland to be announced

Harris warns the disease may be 'with us for a considerable period of time'

The Government is to set up a special Cabinet committee on the coronavirus threat, with Minister for Health Simon Harris warning the disease may be "with us for a considerable period of time".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is to chair the committee, which will assess the impact of Covid-19 and oversee a cross-Government response. Mr Harris is to brief Cabinet on Ireland's preparedness today.

New measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 are also likely to be announced following a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team, which will be considering fresh advice from the European Centre for Disease Control.

The emergency team will also bring forward recommendations on limiting mass gatherings due to public health concerns over the virus, which may impinge on St Patrick’s Festival and other upcoming public events. It is also likely to recommend the transfer of testing of suspected cases from hospital emergency departments to the community.


Cases have now been confirmed in 18 out of 27 EU states, and 28 EU citizens have died. There are 89,068 confirmed cases of the illness globally, 2,199 of them in Europe, and more than 3,000 deaths, the bulk of them in China.

The OECD on yesterday warned that the virus could halve global economic growth this year from its previous forecast. The Paris-based group lowered its central growth forecast from 2.9 per cent to 2.4 per cent, but said a “longer-lasting and more intensive coronavirus outbreak” could slash annual growth to 1.5 per cent.

Google measures

Google has told most of its 8,000 Irish staff and contractors to work from home today after a member of staff reported flu-like symptoms.

Ryanair announced it was cutting flights for three weeks from the middle of this month as the virus outbreak hits bookings. The airline told passengers it would cut its short-haul flight programme, mainly to and from Italy, by up to 25 per cent from March 17th to April 8th.

It blamed a “significant drop in the bookings over that late March/early April period, in response to the Covid-19 virus” for its decision and said a significant number of passengers were not showing up for flights, particularly those to and from Italy.

Mr Harris said that although heightened awareness of the virus was “a good thing”, there was “no room for complacency or panic” in Ireland’s reaction to it.

Despite the European agency’s upgrading the threat of transmission of the disease in Europe to “moderate to high”, Irish public health officials continue to insist they do not expect this to happen in the State.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said he was confident only a "small numbers of sporadic cases" would occur.

School closed

Mr Harris defended the decision of authorities not to name the Dublin school that was closed after one of its students contracted the coronavirus. More than 400 students of the school started two weeks off on Monday after public health officials ordered it to shut to prevent the spread of the disease.

Mr Harris described the decision, which has been widely criticised on social media, as proportionate and evidence-based. “It is our job to provide information that is in the public interest; it is not our job to provide information the public is interested in. That is a different test.”

The process of tracing contacts of the person has been completed and the school has been cleaned, public health officials said, adding that family members of students in the school are free to continue their daily routine as normal.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald confirmed in a video posted on Twitter that her children attend the affected school.

Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs warned Irish citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to Iran due to the spread of the coronavirus there, making it the second country, after China, to be subject to a travel warning from the department since the virus outbreak began.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times