More than 100 St Patrick’s Day parades and festivals are on the brink of cancellation as organisers face “significant pressure” to put public health first.
rganisers of dozens of events will meet over the next 72 hours to decide on next steps, amid the ongoing coronavirus threat.
The Government decision to allow the major city parades to proceed has been criticised by both health officials and campaigners.
Last night it was confirmed that Ireland has two more cases of Covid-19, and significantly both were transmitted within the community.
The man in Cork and woman in the east of the country bring the number of confirmed cases in the Republic to 21. Five new cases in the North yesterday brought the total there to 12.
Previously, there was only one case in Ireland that wasn’t directly related to the outbreak of the virus in Italy.
But amid mounting concern, the Taoiseach’s spokesman said a new administration “would not make it any easier” to deal with the outbreak.
“The reasons why Sinn Féin should not participate in government are even more valid in an emergency,” he said.
A Cabinet sub-committee meets today to consider further measures.
Both new cases involved community transmission - underlining fears that the virus is spreading in Ireland.
The male in the south of the country is at the Bon Secours Hospital, Co Cork, and a risk assessment is under way at the hospital.
"The patient is being cared for in a single room and contact precautions have been in place since the patient's arrival," a statement said.
He had been in the private hospital for some time and was diagnosed with pneumonia before he was tested and found positive for coronavirus.
He was admitted to the hospital last month and was placed in intensive care.
It is understood the woman in the east of the country has an underlying medical condition, adding to concerns.
The first person to acquire the virus in the community, a male patient at Cork University Hospital, has since been transferred to a Dublin hospital for specialist treatment.
Meanwhile, the HSE said it "cannot dispute" that up to 1.9 million people in Ireland may contract the coronavirus.
But speaking on RTÉ Radio, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said it was working to contain the virus and putting together "significant plans".
"Those plans are important and the most appropriate plans for this [containment] phase."
However, he declined to dispute figures reported in the 'Sunday Business Post' that up to 40pc of the population, or 1.9 million people, may contract the virus.
"There's ranges you're seeing from 30pc-50pc and indeed some less and very significant differences in terms of impact. We're working through that right now," Mr Reid said.
When asked if the upcoming St Patrick's Day parade should be cancelled or not, Mr Reid said people would still gather regardless.
"Whether the St Patrick's Day parade happens or doesn't happen, we still will have concentrated numbers of people in different settings," he said.
Specialist in infectious diseases, Professor Sam McConkey, told RTÉ he wasn't surprised by the figures as he said he had been "saying them for weeks".
"The best metaphor that I can think of is the Spanish flu, mixed up with the Irish Civil War, which was 100 years ago, mixed up with the 1929 stock market crash, all mixed up together at the same time," he said.
"That sounds pretty bad, but this is an all-of-society response and requires an all-of-government response."
Pensioners and people with underlying health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes are advised not to attend mass gatherings like the St Patrick's Day Festival.
New guidelines from the HSE also warn that people from the list of at-risk regions, including China and northern Italy, should also consider not attending.
Organisers also need to be alert for crowd disturbance in the event of a rumoured outbreak.
Despite the government's controversial decision to allow the festival to proceed in Dublin, regional parade organisers are coming under mounting pressure.
Organisers involved in more than 100 other events will meet over the next three days to decide whether to postpone their events.
"The vast majority of these events don't have overseas bands booked or foreign tour groups visiting which simplifies things somewhat," one parade organiser said.
However, they admitted "there is significant pressure to postpone events".
Dungarvan is the largest event to date to be cancelled, while Blarney and Bandon became the latest to cancel.