Hospitals are preparing to move patients to alternative facilities from tomorrow to make room for an expected surge of people with Covid-19, as a leading expert predicted that 50,000 people could require critical care during the crisis.
The measure is intended to clear space for the rising number of Covid-19 patients who are expected to need high-level hospital care as the number of confirmed cases soars.
The death of a second person with the virus here was confirmed along with 39 new cases. The total number of cases here stands at 129, with a further 34 in the North.
The increase comes as Tanaiste Simon Coveney advised against non-essential travel to six European countries, including the Czech Republic and Denmark. In the United Kingdom, the NHS confirmed 10 patients who tested positive for the coronavirus have died, bringing the death toll in the UK to 21.
As new confirmed cases of the virus rose across Europe, Spain's government announced tight restrictions on movement and the closure of restaurants and other establishments as part of a two-week state of emergency.
The Licensed Vintners Association (LVF) called on the Government here to give clear guidance to the pub sector as the Covid-19 pandemic led to widespread closures of bars, restaurants and pubs across Europe.
The French government ordered all non-essential public locations to shut from midnight last night after cases of the virus rose by more than 800 to 4,499.
The Taoiseach last week announced school and college closures and restricted public gatherings of more than 100. Donall O'Keeffe, chief executive of the LVF, which covers the Leinster region, said more specific guidelines were required for pubs. "We are not debating it, we are not opposing it. We will follow it. But we felt that the advice on Thursday was not specific enough for the licence trade," he said.
The Health Service Executive has asked voluntary and private ambulances to be on standby from tomorrow morning to help transfer some patients to private hospitals and other facilities, while patients who are deemed fit enough will be discharged.
Senior consultants told the Sunday Independent that they do not know how many patients to expect in the coming days.
"There is a growing sense of apprehension, that there could be something calamitous coming down the road but we are also trying to not spook the public," said one consultant who asked not to be named.
Prof Sam McConkey, who has been studying the progression of the coronavirus since the outbreak started in China three months ago, said: "When I look at even a good-case scenario, I am looking at something like 50,000 people in Ireland getting respiratory failure, meaning they need oxygen, meaning they need to be in hospital. Optimistically, that could be spread over six to 12 months."
Prof McConkey is head of the department of international health and tropical medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons.
Dr Tom Ryan, an intensive-care consultant and former president of the Irish Hospital Consultants' Association, said 4pc of confirmed cases would require critical care.
Concerns about the progress of the coronavirus continue to mount.
÷ The HSE said yesterday that GPs were getting a "very high" number of calls from people wanting to be tested for Covid-19. The HSE said it was working to ensure sufficient testing facilities were in place by tomorrow and asked people with cold-type symptoms to self-isolate until then. "While we appreciate people's concern about Covid-19, we would ask for their patience as we respond to the increasing requirement for testing."
÷ The Department of Social Protection reported an "unprecedented increase in claims and queries" across several of its income support schemes. There are fears of widespread job losses in the hospitality industry. The Restaurants Association of Ireland chief executive Adrian Cummins estimated that around 2,000 people in the sector had been temporarily laid off and 30,000 jobs could be lost if the crisis lasts. He is seeking a specific aid package for struggling businesses so they can recapitalise and get back on their feet when the emergency is over.
÷ Tanaiste Simon Coveney yesterday advised against non-essential travel to the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Malta, Poland, and Slovakia, which have also closed their borders. The number of cases worldwide surged to 154,259, with 5,798 deaths. Mr Coveney urged Irish people to be cautious in making travel plans, particularly to Europe, given the growing number of countries imposing restrictions on entry and exit.
÷ Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met with his Northern Ireland counterparts yesterday to discuss the different UK and Irish strategies to deal with Covid-19. For instance, while schools and colleges in the Republic have closed, they remain open in the UK and in Northern Ireland. Mr Varadkar said the virus "knows no borders, no nationality".
He added: "There will be differences of approach over the next few weeks and months, we are different jurisdictions and there are differences and there will be differences, but the differences that exist are mostly around timing.
"What there isn't any difference about is our common objective, which is to slow down this virus in its tracks and push it back as much as possible and limit the harm to human health and human life."
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin yesterday said Covid-19 was an "unprecedented challenge" but that Irish people would beat it.
In a statement to the Sunday Independent, he said: "Every aspect of our public service and private sector will come under extraordinary pressure and every citizen in every community will be required to play their part. I have no doubt in my mind that we are equal to this challenge.
"The manner in which our entire medical community has come together in the face of this threat has been inspirational. Their energy, innovation, commitment and fearless approach to protecting our people is something to behold. Their resilience is the most important asset we have - it is important we honour it and thank the women and men of the HSE every chance we get."
He added: "Covid-19 will pass. By staying strong and united in our communities and as a country we will minimise the damage that it causes. We will beat this."
The global pandemic has led to nations closing their borders, with US President Donald Trump last night extending a European travel ban to the UK and Ireland. The ban takes effect at midnight US eastern time tomorrow.
The HSE is currently working to identify around 10,000 beds, in various locations, for Covid-19 cases. Cillian De Gascun, director of the National Viral Reference Laboratory, told the Sunday Independent that the health service is now moving to the "home isolation" model for those who test positive and are mildly unwell, to ease pressure on hospitals.
HSE chief operations officer Anne O'Connor told the Sunday Independent last week that the health service was in talks with hotels to provide isolation facilities for non-acute cases. She said beds for moderate and acute care would be found at facilities that could provide specialist support, but "other beds purely for isolation that are not beds for sick people" could be sought in hotels.
Widespread testing for the virus is also ramping up this week, with 12 drive-through test centres expected to open around the country. Ms O'Connor said the health service aims to have about 27 locations in place quickly. Patients can be referred to the centres and have swabs taken by testers while they sit in their car.
The Government is this weekend considering how best to ensure childcare supports for frontline workers, following the closures of creches and schools last week.