AN unexplained case of coronavirus in Cork has prompted 60 staff at Cork University Hospital (CUH) to be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
The staff include doctors, nurses and support personnel - and all are understood to have come in contact with the middle-aged man whose source of the Covid-19 remains a mystery.
Independent.ie understands that other Cork hospitals are now being asked to provide resources to support CUH - while other medical personnel at the south's largest hospital are set to be asked to postpone leave until the situation is resolved.
CUH has a total staff number of around 3,000 - and some of those being asked to self-isolate are medical professionals who would ordinarily be in the frontline for helping patients with Covid-19.
The facility ranks as the busiest acute hospital outside Dublin.
A crisis management team considered the unexplained Covid-19 outbreak overnight and a number of precautionary measures have been recommended.
Major efforts are now underway to contact trace all those who came in contact with the man in a bid to determine the course of the latest virus detection.
The middle-aged man had not travelled overseas and had not been in contact with any of the other known cases.
The Cork detection raises the spectre of community spread of the virus across Ireland given that the patient had not apparently visited countries with concentrated Covid-19 outbreaks or been in known contact with another patient confirmed to have contracted the virus.
Health officials are now pursuing the theory that the man somehow came in contact with someone with Covid-19 who contracted it abroad but either didn't fall ill or had such minor symptoms they were not reported.
One health source indicated the latest case may indicate that the virus has been undetected within the community in Ireland for some
time before the first case was confirmed last week.
Cork University Hospital (CUH) has now displayed 'infection outbreak' signs and warned that visitors are not allowed within specific
sections of the hospital.
The man was being treated for a separate and unrelated health condition on a busy ward in CUH.
All those who were in close proximity to the patient in CUH will now have to be traced and asked to self-isolate.
This is expected to prove a mammoth undertaking for public health doctors given the numbers involved.
CUH has now confirmed that all out patient appointments have been cancelled for today.
However, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and dialysis procedures will proceed as normal.
The hospital explained this was due to infection control procedures.
"All patients will be rescheduled as soon as possible - CUH apologises for any inconvenience this may cause to patients," a spokesperson said.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) said the visitor restrictions at CUH were in accordance with infection control protocols.
"This is in the interest of patient care and in order to prevent infections within the hospital."
However, the CUH emergency department remains open and routine ward operations are continuing as normal.
Yesterday's confirmed cases brought the total number with coronavirus nationwide to 13.
There were already six confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Republic - two in Leinster and four in the west of Ireland.
All four in the west of Ireland involve members of the same family.
An adult in the family worked within the health sector.
All Irish cases up until the one in Cork had been linked to travel to northern Italy which has experienced Europe's highest concentration of virus cases.
In all Irish cases, the patients are responding well to treatment.
The Cork case was be the first coronavirus detection in the south - and the first from an unexplained source in Ireland.
Multiple suspected cases in Cork and Kerry over the past three week have tested negative for the virus.
The Cork detection came after doctors were investigating why the patient, who was being treated for a long-term health issue, was still unwell despite specific medications being administered.
Public health doctors have now begun contact tracing of all those connected with the Cork patient including relatives, medical personnel, hospital support staff and even other patients.
The man was on a busy ward for over 24 hours before it was learned he had Covid-19.
The individual remains in isolation and is understood to be in a stable condition.
In a separate development, a Cork private hospital has also banned all visitors from its campus.
The Mater Private Cork posted a note on social media advising that visitor access was now being restricted "in the interest of patient
In a statement, the Mater said it was acting in the best interests of its patients.
"Mater Private Cork is not a designated receiving hospital for suspected or confirmed cases of novel coronavirus - the designated
hospitals in Cork as per HSE and HPSC are CUH and the Mercy hospital," it stated.
"As a precaution, on the advice of experts and in the interest of patient safety, Mater Private Cork is restricting visitor access until
"All patient appointments will continue as normal."
Meanwhile University Hospital Limerick said today it is trying to contact patients who may have come into contact with a person with coronavirus.
The hospital said its Emergency Department at University Hospital Limerick is operating as normal today, Friday, March 5th.
“We can confirm that the Emergency Department was put off call for a three-hour period on Wednesday night to facilitate a precautionary deep clean of affected areas. Patients arriving by ambulance were diverted to Galway University Hospitals during this interval in line with established national protocols.”