The St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin has been cancelled amid coronavirus fears, it was confirmed this afternoon.
he new Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 made the decision following advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team.
This comes shortly after Cork was the first Irish city to cancel its St Patrick's Day parade because of coronavirus fears.
More than 500,000 people are expected to travel to Ireland for St Patrick's Day parades and festivals.
The Taoiseach is set to brief the media this afternoon after he met with political party leaders.
In a statement, Cork City Council said public welfare had to be paramount and they felt the cancellation of the parade was the correct decision.
"In the context of the evolving circumstances around Covid-19 virus, a meeting was held this morning between the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr John Sheehan and Chief Executive, Ann Doherty at which the holding of the St Patrick’s Day Parade in the city centre was discussed.
"A risk assessment, based on World Health Organisation guidelines, was carried out by Cork City Council which concluded that based on the demographic of those attending the parade, the close proximity of people attending the event and the duration of the event (among other considerations), Cork City Council is not in a position to provide the necessary assurances in relation to current WHO Guidelines.
"Both the Lord Mayor and CE agreed that the welfare of attendees and participants is the primary concern and so, the Lord Mayor and CE have made a decision to cancel this year’s parade."
While Cork was the first city parade to be cancelled, dozens of smaller parades had already been cancelled or postponed. Famous parades at Greystones, Wicklow Town and Newtown were cancelled amid Covid-19 concerns.
"Due to the possible threat to public health from the Covid-19 virus, a decision has been made to cancel the 2020 St Patrick's Day parade in Greystones - the municipal district regrets any inconvenience caused," the organisers confirmed.
Sinn Fein TD John Brady said "the responsible decisions had been taken for human safety concerns."
The Stepaside parade was the first in Dublin to be cancelled.
In Kildare, the parades in Newbridge and Clane were both cancelled.
The Newbridge parade organisers said they felt they had no other option but to prioritise public health and safety.
"In light of the seriousness of the Covid-19 virus, the Newbridge St Patrick's Day parade committee have decided that in the interests of public health it is best to cancel the parade this year. It is the sensible thing to do."
Cork leads the way with cancellations as parades have already been postponed in Youghal, Cobh, Midleton, Blarney, Bandon, Carrigtwohill and Mitchelstown.
Five other major parades in Cork towns are now considering what to do.
In Waterford, Dungarvan postponed its parade on public health grounds.
A special contact centre was set up in Cork to assist in tracing anyone who came in contact with the two cases of unexplained community transmission of the coronavirus.
The two cases - being treated in Cork University Hospital (CUH) and the Bon Secours Hospital - remain under investigation as health chiefs try to determine how both male patients were infected.
Cork health chiefs warned that there would now be challenging times ahead.
Disruption to normal hospital services was inevitable in light of the Covid-19 challenge - and the public were urged to follow Health Service Executive (HSE) guidelines on case reporting and service access.
Out patient appointments were cancelled for a second day at CUH.
Cork Kerry Community Healthcare chief officer Ger Reaney said disruption was unavoidable.
“We are very conscious that as the entire health service prepares to meet the challenges ahead, there will unfortunately be an impact on people using our services. We will do everything we can to keep that impact to a minimum. We wish to thank the people of the region for working with us,” he said.
“We know that there are challenging times ahead, but with your (HSE staff) continued commitment, dedication and hard work that we will meet those challenges,” he said.
A contact centre was up and running in Cork last Friday to assist with the process of contacting and communicating with people who are designated as contacts of confirmed cases of COVID-19.
This call centre was equipped, set-up and staffed within 24 hours and staff have worked constantly in recent days to continue that process of communicating with people in contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The HSE said direct contact will be made with anyone who has been in contact with a recently confirmed case.
Anyone with general concerns should firstly see HSE.ie/coronavirus and ring HSE Live on (1850) 241850.
Meanwhile, hundreds of layoffs have been predicted across the restaurant industry due to the cancelling of the St Patrick’s Day festival.
Adrian Cummins, of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said a lot of his members are already worried as corporate diner business at high-end restaurants in Dublin is down 80pc since the outbreak.
"International tourists are just not flying here," he said. "One casual dining restaurant in Dublin that would normally have 75 customers was down to 15 last Tuesday. It’s predominantly in Dublin and Cork and in some larger towns around the country.
"It’s not sustainable into the future. The banks need to back off and work with businesses to develop a contingency plan around loan repayments and Revenue needs to allow Vat and PRSI payments to be deferred."
"Unfortunately there will be layoffs in the restaurant and tourism sectors as the crisis hammers out industry," he added. "Emergency government measures are required to save jobs."
He said St Patrick’s Day is seen as the "kick off" for the tourism season.
"St Patrick’s Day sets the scene that Ireland is open for business as a tourist destination for the year ahead," he said.
He said the cancellation could mean hundreds of layoffs and will be a major financial blow to tourism and hospitality and business will not recover in 2020.
"This crisis is as threatening to our industry as the crash in 2009-2010," he said.
He said government officials told business representatives that it could be weeks if not months before the virus threat subsides.
Sources claimed that hotels have already been hit by largescale cancellations since the virus was confirmed in the Republic.
The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation called the cancellation of the parade "disappointing but understandable" as they said that coronavirus is already having a drastic impact on the tourism industry.
"Irish tourism is facing an unprecedented challenge and businesses and jobs are at stake. Government needs to treat this like it was treating a “no-deal” Brexit outcome and a fighting fund needs to be put in place now for tourism and hospitality businesses up and down the country...
"Once this crisis passes an injection in tourism marketing budgets is needed so that we can aggressively advertise Ireland in overseas markets to try and recoup some of the lost business," Eoghan O’Mara Walsh, CEO of ITIC said.
Meanwhile, it was confirmed today that the Taoiseach has cancelled a visit to New York for St Patrick’s Day festivities to concentrate on coordinating the battle against coronavirus at home, officials have confirmed.
Mr Varadkar had been due to travel to New York tomorrow as part of his USA St Patrick’s Day round of visits. This part of the journey was also to include further canvassing at the United Nations to boost Ireland’s chances of taking a seat on the Security Council.
But officials today confirmed that Mr Varadkar is not travelling tomorrow and will instead go directly to Washington on Wednesday.
"The Taoiseach is detained by work on the campaign to manage coronavirus situation," a source told Independent.ie.
At this point there is no expected change to other ministerial overseas trips to boost Ireland’s marketing efforts around St Patrick’s Day. These trips have already been curtailed compared with previous years and they are mainly focused on cities with Irish links in the USA.
CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan said she was worried that such mass gatherings posed the potential to spread the virus - with serious consequences for the old, the vulnerable and those with underlying health conditions.