Coronavirus: Three new Irish cases confirmed as St Patrick's Day parades cancelled

€2.6bn sick pay measures and business liquidity fund announced; stocks markets plunge

Dublin’s St Patrick’s Day Parade, which is attended by hundreds of thousands of people is set to be cancelled this year in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.  Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Dublin’s St Patrick’s Day Parade, which is attended by hundreds of thousands of people is set to be cancelled this year in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

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Three newly discovered cases of coronavirus were reported on Monday evening, bringing the total of confirmed cases in the Republic to 24.

 The new cases included three women who had close contact with a confirmed case. Two, including one healthcare worker, are in the south of the country, and one is in the west.

 It has also emerged that one previously reported case involved a person who had travelled from Africa through a European country. This is the only travel-related case not linked to Italy.

Fourteen of the 24 cases are associated with travel from an at-risk zone, seven came from contact with a confirmed case and two have arisen in the health service. Three cases are the result of community transmission for which there is as yet no explanation.

Chief medical officer at the Department of Health Dr Tony Holohan said Ireland remained in a containment phase, but would “eventually” move to a delay phase and then on to a mitigation phase.

Ireland still has a “relatively small number of mostly isolated, sporadic cases,” he said.

He said it is planned to introduce a number of measures relating to individual and collective behaviour but it was not to start these before they are necessary. “The measures we deploy have to be deployed at the right time,” he said, otherwise people would become “fatigued” and their compliance would drop.

The new cases come after the Government agreed an aid package of some €3bn  to deal with the public health and economic impact of coronavirus. It has also cancelled all St Patrick’s Day Parades in the State in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

Sick pay

People affected by coronavirus are to receive sick pay of €305 per week from their first day of illness under a new initiative announced by the Government. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the existing conditions surrounding the sick payments, such as having a specific number of contributions, would be waived. 
Payments will also be available to the self-employed.  The Taoiseach said emergency legislation to change the existing rules governing sick pay would be introduced in the Dail next week.  This measure is estimated to cost €2.4bn. 

The decisions were made following a meeting of the new Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 and followed advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team.

It says the HSE  is scaling up its actions to deal with a population impact over the coming months which will cost in the region of €435 million in 2020. It says a package for business will include a €200m "liquidity fund". 

At a press conference in Government Buildings, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “It is possible we are facing events that are unprecedented in modern times”.

Mr Varadkar said the State’s response has to be “modulated and has to be calibrated” and said decisions on how to react to Coronavirus will not be made “on foot of pressure” from business, politics, the media or social media.

He said the Government will have to make sure “that the interventions that are going to take place have to work” at the right time. He said the spread of Coronavirus cannot be stopped but “it can be slowed” and that it warrants a societal response as well as a medical response.

“If the worst projections come true - come to be the case - if a vaccine and a treatment is not developed then obviously the situation is going to be not like anything that we’ve experienced in our living memory,” he added.

Coronavirus outbreak: Main developments on Monday

In Northern Ireland, two schools have been closed for a deep clean after a student tested positive for coronavirus.  The health minister Robin Swann told the North's Assembly that the schools are located on the same site.  Northern Ireland currently has 12 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Councillors in Belfast have voted to cancel the city's St Patrick's Day parade because of coronavirus. 

The St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin draws nearly 500,000 people and it is the latest in a series of large public events to be cancelled. The celebrations were expected to generate  €73 million for the economy.

The last time St Patrick’s Day parades were cancelled was due to the foot and mouth restrictions in 2001.

Concerns over the impact of coronavirus on the global economy on Monday prompted some of the biggest one-day stock market falls since the 2008 crash.

US stocks plunged 7 per cent after opening on Monday, triggering a 15-minute trading halt for the first time since December 2008.

The France-Ireland Six Nations game which was scheduled to conclude the Guinness 2020 Six Nations in the Stade de France next Saturday was postponed until October.

It has also been confirmed Mr Varadkar will shorten his St Patrick’s visit to the US to attend further meetings about coronavirus.

Mr Varadkar is not attending an engagement in New York on Tuesday and instead will begin his trip in Washington on Wednesday.

Ireland’s match against France in the Six Nations has been postponed until October. Photograph: Reuters
Ireland’s match against France in the Six Nations has been postponed until October. Photograph: Reuters

Stock markets were also spooked by the stand-off between Saudi Arabia and Russia which has triggered a 30 per cent crash in oil prices.

More than 110,000 people have been infected in 105 countries and territories and 3,800 have died, mostly in mainland China, according to a Reuters tally.

Europe

The whole of Italy is to be put on lockdown to deal with Coronavirus, the prime minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Monday.

He will move to extend restrictive measures on travel -- currently in force in the north -- throughout the rest of the country in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus after the number of cases soared by 25 per cent. He also said all public gatherings will be banned.

The country has also reported 463 deaths from the virus an increase of 97 from Sunday. Italy’s cabinet is expected on Wednesday to approve a €7.5 billion package to help to offset the hit from the crisis.

Five people have died and 319 people have tested positive for the disease, up from 273 at the same point on Sunday, the UK's department of health said.

All sporting activity at all levels in Italy has been suspended until April 3rd at the earliest, the Italian national Olympic committee (Coni) has announced.

The French government announced on Sunday it was banning all gatherings of more than 1,000 people in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Germany has reported fourth deaths, and has also implemented a similar ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people..

European Union leaders will hold emergency talks soon to discuss a joint response to coronavirus, officials said on Monday, as the bloc’s executive considers relaxing state subsidy rules to allow extra public spending.

In the United States, officials are preparing to receive thousands of people on board a cruise ship with at least 21 people on board infected by coronavirus.

More than 3,500 people on the ship come from 54 countries, including Ireland. - Additional reporting agencies