Public told to limit social contacts following first Covid-19 death

Large number of public servants to be redeployed as WHO labels coronavirus a pandemic

The public has been told to limit its social interactions and stop shaking hands with others as part of enhanced containment measures following the first death of a coronavirus patient in Ireland.

The elderly woman had an underlying condition which was terminal, and died yesterday at Naas General Hospital.

"The death took place in the last 24 hours. The diagnosis was part of the certification of the death of the individual," chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said last night, appearing to indicate the disease was identified only on the death of the patient.


  • Public told to limit social interactions following first death in Ireland
  • Ireland excluded from US ban on travellers from Europe
  • There are 43 confirmed cases in Republic, 18 in Northern Ireland
  • National Public Health Emergency Team says containment measures to be enhanced
  • World Health Organisation labels coronavirus a pandemic
  • More than 118,000 cases, 4,000 deaths worldwide, with numbers expected to climb
  • GPs asked to 'raise index of suspicion' when treating patients
  • More than 2,300 people tested for virus in Ireland so far

A number of other patients in hospital with the disease are understood to be seriously ill.


The National Public Health Emergency Team said yesterday evening that containment measures would now be enhanced. It asked members of the public to “consider how to limit your social interactions” and to “avoid indoor, crowded spaces”, shaking hands and “close personal contact”.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) for the first time yesterday labelled the coronavirus a pandemic, adding that Italy and Iran were on the frontline of the disease and other countries would soon join them.

“We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have, therefore, made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterised as a pandemic,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva, Switzerland.

He urged the global community to redouble efforts to contain the outbreak, saying aggressive measures could still play a big role in curbing it.

There are more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have died, the WHO said, with the numbers expected to climb.

Italy has said all stores except pharmacies and food outlets will be closed in response to its coronavirus outbreak.

Denmark announced last night it was closing all state schools and requiring public employees besides emergency workers to stay home as it struggles to contain the virus. The move came after cases in the Nordic country spiked at over 500, marking a 10-fold increase within just three days.

Here large numbers of staff within the health and public service are expected to be redeployed to help in the fight against the virus. Many will be used to ramp up contact-tracing capability as the number of confirmed cases increases.

‘Index of suspicion’

GPs and hospital doctors are being asked to “raise their index of suspicion” for the disease when treating patients. This means they should consider Covid-19 as a possible diagnosis despite the absence of travel-related links to the disease.

There are now 43 confirmed cases of the virus in the Republic, with another 18 in Northern Ireland.

Of the new cases reported in the Republic, seven related to travel from an at-risk region. Six of these involved Italy, and one was transmitted from Austria.

The number of European countries considered to be high risk is likely to be expanded soon, Dr Holohan indicated.

More than 2,300 people have been tested for the disease in Ireland so far, with the vast majority receiving negative results.

Tests are being carried out at a rate of 330 a day, according to Dr Cillian de Gascun, head of the National Virus Reference Laboratory.

Up to now tests have been processed at the National Virus Reference Laboratory in Dublin, but from this week labs in Cork and a Dublin hospital will also carry out this work prior to a national rollout.

Meanwhile, Britain is expected to move today into the next stage of its strategy to combat coronavirus, encouraging “social distancing” to slow the spread of the disease.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times