Public health officials are set to announce a major ramping up of precautions against coronavirus as the outbreak approaches a pandemic stage.
New travel advice and fresh guidance on the holding of mass gatherings are expected to form part of the response from government departments to the heightened threat posed by the virus.
With seven deaths reported in Italy, countries across Europe are scaling up their response to the threat posed by the disease.
The new package of Irish measures, which has yet to be finalised, is expected to be announced on Tuesday following a meeting of the Department of Health’s national public health emergency team (NPHET).
“Our public health officials are currently meeting with EU counterparts and the European Centre for Disease Control to assess the situation in Italy, Europe and worldwide,” a department spokeswoman said on Monday evening.
“This data will be brought to the NPHET meeting, where Ireland’s approach will continue to be considered.”
Health workers returning from places where person-to-person transmission of the virus is occurring or who have been in contact with infected patients may be required to go into self-isolation for 14 days as part of new measures under consideration.
And with public health experts saying it is only a matter of time before the virus makes its way to Ireland, a dramatic shift in approach is planned should a case be confirmed here. From that point, it is understood, the emphasis will switch from containment to mitigation, and on tracing anyone who has been in contact with a confirmed case.
In this phase it is expected that public health officials would have a say in whether mass gatherings such as concerts or football matches could go ahead based on the health risks involved.
The surge in cases in Italy has forced the cancellation of Ulster's Pro 14 rugby game against Benetton in Treviso due to take place on Saturday, and may impact on the Ireland versus Italy rugby international to be played in Dublin on March 7th. Some 2,500 Italian fans are expected to travel for the match.
The Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday advised Irish citizens not to travel to areas of Italy affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The revised travel advice applies to 10 specific towns where travel has been restricted, but not to the rest of the country.
The chances of a coronavirus case occurring in Ireland have "significantly increased" in light of the Italian outbreak, with the State now preparing for the likelihood that there "could well be a case in Ireland in the coming days and weeks", Minister for Health Simon Harris acknowledged on Monday.
The surge in coronavirus cases wiped €436 billion off the value of European stock markets, with Italian shares suffered their worst day since 2016.
The Iseq index of Irish shares was down 4.3 per cent, with Ryanair shares declining by 13 per cent on fears the outbreak in Europe could hamper the travel industry.
The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, said the spread of the virus around the world was not yet at pandemic stage, but acknowledged it had the potential to become one.
Speaking in Geneva, Switzerland, Dr Ghebreyesus said the focus must still be on containing the virus in individual countries, adding that the world was not yet seeing “large scale severe disease or death”.
He said the WHO was “encouraged by the continued decline in cases in China”, though 77,262 cases have been declared there, including 2,618 deaths.
He said outside China there were now 2,074 cases confirmed in 28 countries, and 23 deaths, including a rapid rise in cases in Italy, South Korea and Iran.
“The sudden increases of cases in Italy, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.