Medical suppliers are reporting a big jump in demand for surgical masks in response to the coronavirus outbreak in China, with some Dublin stores saying they have run out of stocks.
Demand has been particularly high among the Chinese community, especially from those who travelled home to mark the Chinese New Year at the weekend.
The death toll from the outbreak rose to 81 on Monday, as the government extended the Lunar New Year holiday and more big businesses shut down or told staff to work from home in an effort to curb the spread.
In Ireland, the main Government body for dealing with health emergencies is due to meet today to discuss what actions need to be taken in Ireland to prepare for the threat posed by the virus, which has resulted in 56 deaths in China this month.
The National Public Health Emergency Team has been liaising with the World Health Organisation and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in relation to the outbreak, but this afternoon's meeting is the first to be held since the virus emerged.
Members of the team include experts from the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive, the Health Surveillance Protection Centre and the National Virus Research Laboratory.
A sub-committee of the team, the Health Threats Coordination Group, wgucg us chaired by the Department of Health, met on Friday to brief members of the response to the outbreak.
In relation to “international incidents”, Ireland follows the advice and guidance of the WHO and the ECDC, a HSE spokeswoman pointed out, adding that the WHO has not declared the emerging situation as a “public health emergency of international concern”.
The UK government is reportedly considering an emergency evacuation of several hundred of its citizens trapped in China after the outbreak.
Asked whether it has any similar plans, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said it was continuing to monitor the situation closely. Irish citizens in the region should follow the advice of the local authorities in China, a spokeswoman said.
Murray's Medical Equipment in Dublin's city centre said on Monday they had run out of surgical masks as a result of publicity about the virus. Fitzmedical Supplies in Glasnevin also said stocks of surgical masks had run out, largely as a result of demand from the local Chinese community, though fresh supplies were expected on Wednesday.
Medguard Healthcare in Co Meath said there had been an increase in demand for masks over recent weeks, but supplies were still available.
The number of confirmed cases in China has risen to 2,744, with about half in the central province of Hubei, the capital of which is Wuhan. But some experts suspect the number of infected people is much higher.
Cases have also been reported in other Asian countries, the US and France.