| 17.4°C Dublin

Coronavirus evening digest: Simon Harris pleads with public to stay home, prisoners offered 'virtual visits' from loved ones

Close

Crisis: Leo Varadkar at the launch of a public information booklet on coronavirus at Government Buildings. Photo: Nick Bradshaw/PA

Crisis: Leo Varadkar at the launch of a public information booklet on coronavirus at Government Buildings. Photo: Nick Bradshaw/PA

PA

Crisis: Leo Varadkar at the launch of a public information booklet on coronavirus at Government Buildings. Photo: Nick Bradshaw/PA

Independent.ie reporters are bringing you the latest coronavirus stories you may have missed today.

Italy coronavirus deaths rise by 919, highest daily tally since start of outbreak

Close

A Carabinieri officer walks in the old town in Bari as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Bari, Italy, March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

A Carabinieri officer walks in the old town in Bari as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Bari, Italy, March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

REUTERS

A Carabinieri officer walks in the old town in Bari as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Bari, Italy, March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

Gavin Jones and Giuseppe Fonte report

The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has surged by 919 to 9,134, the Civil Protection Agency said on Friday, the highest daily tally since the epidemic emerged on February 21.

Prior to Friday's figure, the largest daily toll was registered on March 21, when 793 people died.

The 919 people who died over the last 24 hours compares with 712 deaths on Thursday, 683 on Wednesday, 743 on Tuesday and 602 on Monday.

The total number of confirmed cases rose to 86,498 from a previous 80,539, taking Italy's total past that of China, where the coronavirus epidemic emerged at the end of last year.

The United States already surpassed China's tally of cases on Thursday.

In Italy, of those originally infected nationwide, 10,950 had fully recovered on Friday, compared to 10,361 the day before. There were 3,732 people in intensive care against a previous 3,612.

The hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy reported a steep rise in fatalities compared with the day before and remains in a critical situation, with a total of 5,402 deaths and 37,298 cases.

That compared with 4,861 deaths and 34,889 cases reported up to Thursday.

Friday's cumulative death tally included 50 fatalities that actually occurred on Thursday in the northern Piedmont region, but whose notification arrived too late to be included in the official figures for March 26, the Civil Protection Agency said.

This has led to some confusion and means that some media outlets are reporting the Friday daily tally at 969, rather than 919.

'I need you to stay at home unless you absolutely need to leave your home' - Simon Harris pleads with public

Close

Minister for Health, Simon Harris (Steve Humphreys/PA)

Minister for Health, Simon Harris (Steve Humphreys/PA)

Minister for Health, Simon Harris (Steve Humphreys/PA)

Gabija Gataveckaite reports

Health Minister Simon Harris has issued a clear and simple plea to members of the Irish public, urging them to not leave their home unless they “absolutely need to”.

Speaking on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show, the minister said that there is a lot of information about the coronavirus and that some of it may have become “clouded”.

“I need you to stay at home unless you absolutely need to leave your home,” he said.

He also dismissed claims that people coming into the country are posing a very high risk, saying that people are most likely to become ill with the coronavirus while at home.

“If you are leaving your house today to make an unnecessary visit to a friend or family member, you are at much greater risk at spreading that virus than anybody else arriving in our country.”

“Anytime any of us leave our home and come into contact with more people, we risk spreading the germs that are this virus.

“It’s not about something coming from abroad coming into our country and sneezing - this is about us acting as if we have the virus and doing everything we can to stop it spreading,” he added.

He said that helping to flatten the COVID-19 curve in Ireland is mostly down to “personal responsibility” and that hiring extra nurses and issuing strict lockdown-like measures would be “in vain” if responsibility is not taken.

“We’re now at the stage of the virus where it is down to us, it’s down to what we decide to do in the coming days and weeks.

“It is now down to personal individual responsibility.”

He also urged younger people to not become complacent that they will not catch the virus.

“It’s not something that exclusively affects older people.

“There should not be a complacency here that, ‘I’m grand, I’m in my 30s, this is something that will affect my granny’.”

Coronavirus deaths will only increase in coming weeks, Taoiseach warns

Close

27/03/2020 Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar pictured this afternoon during a visit to Total Produce Food in Swords this afternoon...Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

27/03/2020 Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar pictured this afternoon during a visit to Total Produce Food in Swords this afternoon...Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Colin Keegan

27/03/2020 Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar pictured this afternoon during a visit to Total Produce Food in Swords this afternoon...Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Cormac McQuinn reports

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said that deaths from coronavirus in Ireland will only increase over the next two to four weeks and that it will be a "very pleasant surprise" if the toll is kept below 1,000.

The Taoiseach said the death toll is "impossible to predict" as the virus is new and "we're only still learning about it".

"If you take the average flu season in Ireland, there'll be roughly 500 deaths. If you take a bad flu season in Ireland, there'd be roughly 1,000 deaths.

"So it would be a surprise, and a very pleasant surprise if the number of deaths at the end of this is less than 1,000," Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Varadkar also said that Intensive Care Units (ICUs) will be full in the coming days but the health service is working to increase capacity.

He said his thoughts are with the families of the latest victims of coronavirus in Ireland -the death toll more than doubled to 19 when ten fatalities were announced last night.

There is also concern about the high level of patients requiring ICU care and clusters of cases in nursing homes.

Mr Varadkar said he is concerned about the ICU situation but said any new restrictions on the public in an effort to counter the spread of the disease will only be implemented on the advice of the the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

He said that at present there are empty ICU beds but they "will be at capacity within a few days."

"That's already the case across Europe. It looks like it may happen here so we need to plan for that. We have to make sure that we have backup ICU capacity, ventilators... all of those things."

He said the health service is making an unprecedented effort to "tool up", recruit and provide additional capacity but warned "we're going to be managing a very difficult situation".

Mr Varadkar said the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths in Ireland "can only increase over the next two to four weeks."

"The objective is to slow down the rate at which it increases, get to the peak and then start getting it down and that start returning the country to some degree of normality."

Prisoners offered 'virtual visits' from loved ones after all in-person visits suspended

Close

Stock image

Stock image

Stock image

Ralph Riegel reports

ALL visits to Irish prisons have been suspended over Covid-19 fears with inmates now being offered 'virtual visits' with their families and loved ones.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) will, from next week, offer inmates the chance to see and chat with their loved ones via special electronic platforms including the Internet and various video services.

It came as the IPS previously granted 200 prisoners early release in a bid to assist with infection control and social-distancing measures, bringing to 579 the total number of prisoners currently on early release.

The total number of people behind bars in Ireland's 12 prisons has dropped from almost 4,500 in mid January to 3,900 last week.

Until now, the IPS had attempted despite virus fears to maintain inmate visits on a restricted basis - being limited to one visitor per inmate with each visit restricted to 15 minutes.

Strict hygiene measures including hand sanitisers were also provided.

To date, no case of Covid-19 has been confirmed in an Irish prison though 12 inmates at the Dóchas Centre in Mountjoy were in isolation.

Health chiefs admitted that their greatest concern has focused on Covid-19 spreading to vulnerable centres such as nursing homes and geriatric hospitals as well as concentrated population centres such as prisons.

Now, inmates will have to visit with their loved ones via electronic means.

"The volume of people entering and exiting our prisons on a daily basis means effective infection control and vigilance is absolutely essential," a Government spokesperson said.

"Prisons are the home or the place of work of over 7,000 people and the IPS is taking a number of necessary measures aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 including the restriction of visits to prisoners."

"The IPS has made every effort to continue to run normal family visits for as long as possible. However, in the best interests of the health and safety of prison staff, prisoners and their families, from tomorrow normal physical visits will no longer be possible."

"Physical visits will be replaced by electronic visits via Internet platforms, video link and video-phone."

"Electronic visits will negate the need for visitors, for example, to gather in visitor centres at each prison and are in line with the recommendations announced this week by the Taoiseach."

The IPS will work with inmate families over such 'virtual visits' and will liaise with families who may have not ready access to such electronic platforms.

Online Editors