Virus fear begins to grip as events called off and number of infected rises to 34

Health staff with no symptoms will be allowed to return to work

Trinity College plans online tuition

Eilish O'Regan and Katherine Donnelly

The damaging impact of the coronavirus outbreak was felt in the cancellation of a raft of events yesterday and the near-closure of Trinity College Dublin as the number of people infected shot up to 34.

Ten more people tested positive for the virus yesterday, among them two healthcare workers - one in the south and another in the east - after a surge of 1,387 tests in the last week.

In a drastic response to the virus threat, Trinity - which had a case of the infection last week - announced it would close lecture halls and deliver tuition online to its thousands of students.

Across the country, the Irish Cancer Society cancelled its main fundraising event, Daffodil Day, and the children's charity Make-A-Wish Ireland abandoned its street collection which was to be held this Friday.

The Fingal International Festival of Voices, which was due to be staged in Balbriggan from tomorrow until Sunday has also been cancelled.


The festival included the three friendship concerts which were due to be held tomorrow in Rush, Malahide and Balbriggan.

Any tickets bought in advance will be refunded.

This decision was taken after consultations by the festival's organisers and Fingal County Council.

The expert group in the Department of Health overseeing the coronavirus has also drawn up new rules that will allow healthcare workers who may have been exposed to the virus, but have no symptoms, to return to work as the health service struggles with huge numbers of staff self-isolating.

The healthy workers will be risk-assessed before being assigned to work and will be tested twice daily.

None of the new cases diagnosed yesterday were infected through community transmission - the most worrying route.

Five picked up the virus abroad and three others, a male and two women, were infected by another confirmed case.

The crisis, which has led to the cancellation of hundreds of surgeries and out-patient appointments, continued yesterday in Limerick, the mid-west and Cork.

The expert group has given the go-ahead to regional laboratories to begin testing suspect cases for the virus and results should be available in 24 to 48 hours amid complaints about the delay from some people who must self-isolate.

The group said strict visiting restrictions imposed by hospitals and nursing homes are not needed at this stage.

Controversial guidelines from the Irish Association of Funeral Directors that any person who dies of coronavirus should be immediately cremated or buried without a funeral service were also described as unwarranted.

Official advice will be issued by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre today.

HSE chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said 98pc of the 1,784 people tested so far have produced negative results.

He warned that while Ireland "remains in containment there is no room for complacency".

The European disease watchdog has warned of many more cases of community transmission, where people are infected without a known source.

When that happens here, more stringent precautions will be felt by the population.

It is possible to explain the source of infection in all but three of the 34 cases in the Republic so far. Asked about rumours that schools are about to be closed, Dr Holohan said it could not be ruled out at some stage but will not be implemented at this point.


A range of possible restrictive measures will in the future be enforced to delay the infection's spread but they will be "deployed at an appropriate" time and that is "not necessarily now", he said.

GPs have been told to look out for possible coronavirus infection in patients who have symptoms and have returned to Ireland from regions not currently on the at-risk list.

Patients who have not been abroad but have unexplained severe respiratory illness are also to be considered for testing for the virus.

Pharmacists yesterday appealed to symptomatic people back from an at-risk country to stay away and ring their GP or A&E instead.