At least 14 residents of a private nursing home in Leinster have tested positive for Covid-19.
he virus is believed to have been transmitted to residents via a health worker in the first case of mass contagion to occur in a nursing home setting.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre last night announced 102 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.
There are now 785 confirmed cases here.
The outbreak in the nursing home has caused serious concern in the health service as older people are at higher risk of becoming severely ill from Covid-19. It also underscores the urgency of social-distancing and self-isolation to protect the most vulnerable from the virus.
All of the nursing home residents and staff were tested for the virus last week after a health worker was confirmed as Covid-19 positive, sources said. The sources said the figure is likely to increase.
According to medical sources, the residents remain in isolation in the nursing home where their condition is being closely monitored to ease the burden on the hospital system. They will be hospitalised if they start showing symptoms.
A senior HSE source last night confirmed that more than a dozen residents in one private nursing home in Leinster had been infected.
The source said the outbreak was very serious but measures could be taken to contain it. Some individual cases have been recorded in a number of other nursing homes.
"They [older people] are the most vulnerable group but if the nursing homes take action and isolate those who have contracted the virus there is a chance to limit the spread," the source said.
Hospitals expect a wave of new coronavirus cases to hit emergency departments this week as the Government prepares to unveil new measures to further restrict movements.
There are already 173 people with the virus being treated in hospitals around the country, with 13 in intensive-care units, but health sources expect that figure to double if not treble in the coming days.
The country's leading infectious diseases hospital, the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin, is planning for admissions of "hundreds" of new cases over the coming months.
The hospital's emergency department is gearing up for between 30 and 60 patients presenting every day, with most of those expected to require hospitalisation and around 5pc of those in need of critical care.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent as the Mater prepares for the upcoming surge, its chief executive, Alan Sharp, said the hospital plans to make 200 beds available, including 72 that are available immediately, 84 that can be switched on with a few hours of notice, and more beds are under consideration.
He said the hospital will drop medical pods containing 12 to 20 beds for coronavirus patients into its car park, if it runs out of capacity.
"Will we end up in the hundreds in this hospital? It's more than likely that we will at some point but we are hoping that that will be the height of it. This hospital will be as prepared as a hospital can be. We'll be ready, as far as one can be," Mr Sharp said.
Northern Ireland yesterday experienced its single biggest daily increase of confirmed cases since the first case was confirmed at the end of February.
Stormont's department of health said testing had resulted in 22 new positive cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 108.
As coronavirus cases continue to soar in Ireland, the Deputy Commissioner of An Garda Siochana, John Twomey, said the force has been in contact with hospitals concerned about the disappearance of personal protective equipment for staff.
The safety of frontline health staff, and the risks of contagion associated with their work, has been a serious concern for hospitals as the crisis unfolds. Mr Twomey confirmed to the Sunday Independent that gardai are investigating the concerns. He said the theft of protective gear is a crime and perpetrators will be brought to justice.
Another measure being considered by Government is that publicans opening bars and restaurants during the Covid-19 emergency risk losing their liquor licences.
Health authorities plan to record the names of bars flouting strict social-distancing guidelines during the national health crisis and objections will be lodged against the renewal of their licences.
A senior government source said the HSE can object to liquor licences being granted on the basis the pubs were not willing to adhere to health and safety advice during a national emergency.
"We'll remember those who stayed open while we fought the virus and the HSE has the power to lodge objections to licences," the source said.
The threat comes after Health Minister Simon Harris warned that the Government will forcibly shut pubs not complying with the social-distancing rules aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.
"Let me be very clear to those people - last night the Oireachtas gave this department and myself, as minister, emergency powers. The President of Ireland signed that into law last night and we will shut you down if you're a pub that is remaining open," Mr Harris said.
"You are letting down the people of this country. You are also letting down your fellow publicans who are helping out and complying, with great difficulty to them and their staff at a very challenging time."
Last night, Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, said officals are asking gardai to help the public abide to social distancing measures by dispersing large groups.
Mr Harris said that he is satisfied measures currently in place will help slow down the spread of coronavirus.
He said a significant amount of new personal protective equipment is due to arrive in the coming days, including 6.5 million more facemasks.
The HSE said it has 35,000 coronavirus testing kits and another 20,000 kits are expected to arrive next week. To date, more than 12,000 tests have been carried out.
"My department will also meet, along with other state agencies on Monday, with stakeholders from industry. We will meet with some of the pharma companies in Ireland, some of the medical devices companies, and this is to ensure we can absolutely maximise the access we have to medical devices in the coming days weeks and months," Mr Harris added.
The minister said it was important that people continue to practise social distancing on Mother's Day today.
He said people can still bring a gift to their mother, cook a meal and leave it on their doorstep, or find other innovative ways to stay in touch.
He also thanked all the mothers on the frontline in the medical and retail sectors who are helping others at present.
Writing in today's paper the governor of the Central Bank, Gabriel Makhlouf, said the institution "will spare no effort to contain the economic effects of the crisis and do everything in our power to protect consumers, households and firms".
He added: "When the recovery comes, and it will come, we need to make sure we have a financial system that continues to serve households, businesses and the economy more widely."