The Government’s go-ahead for the St Patrick’s Day Festival in the face of the coronavirus crisis has been strongly criticised by leading doctors.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, backed by chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, said the extravaganza – which will attract thousands from overseas and bring crowds on the streets across the country – would go ahead at this stage.
He made his comments as another five people were diagnosed with the coronavirus in the Republic last night, bringing the total to 18.
However, the decision to allow the festival to go ahead was questioned by leading oncologist Dr John Crown, who said: “I think it should be cancelled.”
Coombe Hospital obstetrician Dr Carmen Regan warned: “We need the Government to take hard decisions. It should be postponed.”
Kingston Mills, an immunologist at Trinity College, added: “Any large gathering is a risk. It’s about nipping this in the bud.”
Meanwhile, in Cork University Hospital 60 staff are self-isolating for 14 days.
Staff were asked to self-isolate for the next 14 days as a precautionary measure.
Dr Holohan said last night the risk of getting the coronavirus in Ireland remains low and there has still only been one case of community transmission, which involved a male patient in Co Cork.
The new cases involve a healthcare worker in Cork who came into close contact with another person already confirmed as having the virus.
Three people tested positive after travelling abroad - two to northern Italy and another from a region which is not on an at-risk list.
A woman in the west of Ireland also picked up the virus after contact with another person who was already positive.
People who feel unwell or have a weakened immune system and those who have returned from at-risk areas are advised not to attend large gatherings.
Mr Varadkar said yesterday it was "inevitable" that many people would contract the virus in the coming days, weeks and months but for the "vast majority" it would be a mild illness.
He said Ireland was still in the containment phase, and any actions taken would be "proportionate and be in line with medical and scientific advice".
Hospitals fearful that patients and staff may be exposed to the coronavirus are also restricting visitors.
The Mater Hospital, where a number of people who tested positive for coronavirus were admitted to the national isolation unit, said the only visitors who would be allowed on campus were those seeing patients in critical care, vulnerable young adults, psychiatric patients or those whose loved ones were receiving end of life care.
Hospitals in the mid-west are also restricting visitors and the University Hospital Limerick group announced the cancellation of elective surgeries and outpatient appointments across all six sites on Monday and Tuesday next week.
University Hospital Limerick is currently treating a GP, his wife and two children from Co Clare who tested positive for the virus earlier this week after returning from Italy .
Children are to be asked to stay away from visiting private nursing homes as part of a new restrictions. Nursing Homes Ireland said that no non-essential visiting, children or groups would be allowed. It said all visitors were asked to call ahead prior to attending.
However, Dr Holohan said this was premature and unwarranted at this stage.
He said it was planned that patients who test positive for the new coronavirus would no longer be admitted to hospital if they had mild symptoms and could recover at home.
This would relieve the pressure on hospitals, he added.
A patient with a mild dose of the virus will recover in about two weeks.
The HSE used a former Garda station in Co Clare yesterday as a pop-up facility to test people for the virus. People who were believed to have had contact with any person diagnosed with the virus were invited to attend the centre where National Ambulance Service staff took swabs and carried out a preliminary assessment.