A race is on to sign up GPs to staff new coronavirus assessment hubs amid fears that care provided by family doctors will "implode" as they and their staff fall sick.
The new clinical assessment hubs are designed to divert patients suspected of having the virus away from GP surgeries where there is a risk of spreading the infection to the doctors, leading to surgeries having to close. Doctors' organisations have warned there is an "increasing chance that care is likely to implode" if GPs and their staff become sick.
Concerns have also been raised that people are ignoring other illnesses because they are avoiding GPs' surgeries and hospital Emergency Departments in a bid to evade the virus.
Health authorities are planning 40 hubs around the country to exclusively assess suspected cases of Covid-19 and free up GPs' clinics for other patients. The HSE intends to open up to 15 of the centres this week.
It comes as Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he expected people would have to cocoon in their homes beyond the originally announced date of April 12.
Last night, it was announced that 21 more patients diagnosed with coronavirus have died, bringing the death toll here to 158.
There are now 4,994 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.
Separately, the HSE confirmed it spent €4m on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that is not suitable for the coronavirus fight.
Health chiefs have warned the public must not become lax as the fight against coronavirus enters a critical week.
Both the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) have urged family doctors to sign up to work at the new coronavirus assessment hubs.
The ICGP wrote to its members highlighting "increasing concern" that the public - particularly those with chronic diseases - are not consulting with their GPs.
"Without the Clinical Assessment Hubs, there is also the increasing chance that care is likely to implode as GPs and staff will stand a greater risk of becoming sick, with the potential for practice closures," the ICGP warned as it encouraged doctors to sign up for the new centres.
IMO president Dr Padraig McGarry also encouraged doctors to take part amid concern that non-Covid-19 patients have been reluctant to contact GPs about other ailments which are "just as important".
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan - who had tests for a non-Covid-19 health issue last week - has also highlighted the worry that people are not seeking medical care.
He said that "while protecting yourself from Covid-19 is a priority, no one should ignore signs that they may need medical attention for other ailments, such as lumps, chest pain or other concerns. Please do not ignore any symptom outside of Covid-19. The hospitals are there for all ailments".
The Irish Cancer Society also raised concern that people are putting their lives at risk because of a reluctance to contact their GP during the coronavirus crisis. It said some people were doing so due to embarrassment that they may be putting extra pressure on the health system.
Chief executive Averil Power called on people with cancer symptoms to contact their GP as "when it comes to cancer, early detection is key".
HSE chief operating officer Ann O'Connor last night said the HSE was "very concerned" that some patients, such as those who suffered a mild stroke or other illnesses that require a time-specific intervention, may not be attending hospital emergency departments. She said those services were still available to non-coronavirus patients.
Coronavirus assessment hubs are to open in the coming days in Letterkenny, Galway, Limerick, Cork, Wicklow, Drogheda, Athlone and Dublin.
Ms O'Connor said the HSE believed there would be enough GPs to staff up to 40 centres.
People with suspected coronavirus cases will be referred to the hubs - which will open between 8am and 8pm - after calling their GP.
Separately, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the virus was still spreading and more people were being hospitalised, entering ICU and dying. He told Bere Island Community Radio it was a "tragedy that we have to try to manage".
He added that the Government was asking people "to effectively accept that they will be cocooned in their own homes for a few more weeks yet".
HSE boss Paul Reid said the "vast majority" of people were complying with social distancing and other restrictions but warned there was anecdotal evidence "people are beginning to get a bit lax". He said he was forced to talk to a group of children playing football over the weekend to tell them to stop.
The HSE last night confirmed that 20pc of the PPE it had sourced from China was not suitable for use by health workers fighting coronavirus.
A further 15pc should only be used if preferred equipment is not available. Mr Reid insisted other uses would be found for the items - mostly masks - but the cost of those that can't be used for Covid-19 was €4m.
We have had our first death in town. It took the wind out of our sails. Everyone had been doing so well - supporting one another on WhatsApp groups, uploading uplifting songs and stories on Facebook and making sure everyone obeyed the rules.