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THE DEPARTMENT OF Foreign Affairs has issued a ‘do not travel’ warning for the whole of Italy – the highest possible level of advisory.

It comes after the country’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte last night extended internal travel restrictions imposed in the north to the entire country last night. 

Here at home, the North’s Public Health Agency confirmed four more cases there this afternoon, bringing the total number in Northern Ireland to 16. The Department of Health in Dublin is also expected to give an update this evening. 

More on today’s major developments: 

That’s it for the evening folks, thanks for joining us and see you tomorrow. 

Speaking this evening, health officials said ‘socially restrictive actions’ – visitor bans – at nursing homes are not necessary and were not recommended by health authorities. 

Dr Tony Holohan said it would be appropriate that they be lifted.

Holohan said if officials do eventually recommend these kinds of restrictions at nursing homes, they might be in place for a considerable period of time. He said taking away this social interaction can have a significant impact on people living in institutional care.

Holohan said this is why it is important not to introduce measures like this too early.

The new cases of Covid-19 confirmed this evening are as follows: 

  • A male healthcare worker in the south who contracted the illness in hospital 
  • A female healthcare worker in the south who contracted the illness in hospital 
  • Three men from the south – associated with travel from affected area 
  • One man in the west – linked to contact with a confirmed case 
  • A woman in the west – associated with contact with a confirmed case 
  • A woman in the south – associated with contact with a confirmed case 
  • A man in the east who had travelled to an affected area 
  • A woman in the east who had travelled to an affected area

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health said: “98% of all suspected cases in Ireland have tested negative. While Ireland remains in containment phase, there is no room for complacency.

“We all have a part to play in limiting and slowing the spread of this disease.”

Preparations to tackle the spread of the coronavirus has ramped up significantly in the past few days – with St Patrick’s Day events cancelled and Italy on lockdown.

Here’s the latest from our reporter Michelle Hennessey who is at the briefing.

Ten more cases of Covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland have been confirmed.

This brings the total number of cases in the Republic to 34, up from 24 yesterday.

Earlier, the North’s Public Health Agency confirmed four more cases there this afternoon, bringing the total number in Northern Ireland to 16. 

The Taoiseach is due to update the media on the coronavirus outbreak at around 6.30pm.

Leo Varadkar had earlier attended a meeting of the EU Council on Covid-19 via videocall. 

More news on the football front. 

Bayern Munich have confirmed that next week’s Champions League game against Chelsea will go ahead without fans over fears of the spread of the coronavirus.

Over in the US, the National Guard has been drafted in to help contain the spread of the virus in the area of New Rochelle in New York.

There has been a significant outbreak of the disease in the area with 173 people in the state of New York now hit by the virus. 

The city’s mayor, Andrew Cuomo, said: “This is the single greatest public health challenge we have in the state right now.”

Prison riots in Italy, meanwhile, have now claimed 11 lives. 

The riots began on Sunday when detainees were informed that the new emergency decree banned visits from relatives to reduce infections.

Eight of the deaths stemmed from rioting at Modena’s prison, where all but one victim is believed to have died of overdoses after inmates raided the jail’s pharmacy.

xinhua-photos-of-the-day Prisoners protest on the roof of Saint Vittore prison in Milan yesterday. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Italy has recorded 168 deaths today from coronavirus, according to the latest statistics. 

This is the highest single-day toll so far, pushing the number of fatalities outside China to more than 1,000.

Overall, 631 people have now died from Covid-19 in Italy and 10,149 have been infected in just over two weeks.

JUST IN: Airline easyJet has cancelled all its flights to and from Italy until 3 April. 

An easyJet spokesman said: “Following restrictions implemented by the Italian authorities, easyJet is now in the process of cancelling all of its existing scheduled flights touching Italy between 10 March and 3 April 2020.

“We will be operating some rescue flights in the coming days.

“We are advising affected customers of their options by email and SMS which includes the option of rebooking or requesting a refund.

“We will be operating rescue flights for passengers wishing to travel for essential, work, health or repatriation reasons to and from Italy.

“Rescue flights will be listed on our Latest Travel Information section of the website and customers can book onto these flights via our contact centre or by arriving at the airport as early as possible on the day of departure.”

Minister of Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys TD has announced details of a package of supports put in place for businesses impacted by Covid-19.

These include:

    • A €200m Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) Working Capital scheme for eligible businesses impacted by COVID-19.
    • Loans of up to €1.5m available at reduced rates, with up to the first €500,000 unsecured. 
    • A €200m package for enterprise supports including a Rescue and Restructuring Scheme available through Enterprise Ireland for vulnerable but viable firms that need to restructure or transform their business.
    • The maximum loan available from MicroFinance Ireland, meanwhile, will increase from €25,000 to €50,000 as an immediate measure to specifically deal with exceptional circumstances.

The Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil leaders have held discussions in recent days on a number of policy issues and the current political situation.

In a joint statement, the parties said: “Both parties will also continue discussions with the Green Party. Both leaders are acutely aware of the enormous challenges facing the country, particularly with the onset of Covid-19.”

Fianna Fáil won 38 seats in the general election held last month. Fine Gael lost their position as largest party, winning 35 seats. Sinn Féin won 37.

BREAKING: Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin have agreed that their two parties should “now commence in-depth, detailed talks” with a view to forming a government. 

pjimage (12) Source: RollingNews.ie

Cork University Hospital has said it will be reducing or rescheduling outpatient appointments for the remainder of this week.

The following services will not be impacted and patients are to attend as per their appointments:

  • Dialysis
  • Dressing clinic
  • Warfarin clinic
  • Endoscopy
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Infusions
  • Radiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Therapies: Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Dietetics, Speech & Language
  • All regional cancer centre appointments in the Glandore and Orchid Centre
  • EEG/EMG

All other appointments are being rescheduled unless patients are directly contacted by the hospital to attend their scheduled appointment, the hospital said in a statement.

Surgeries will proceed as normal unless patients are contacted by the hospital and advised otherwise. 

“Visiting restrictions remain throughout the hospital and Cork University Hospital wishes to thank the public for their patience and support at this time. The hospital will continue to keep the public updated,” it said. 

BREAKING: Children’s charity Make-A-Wish Ireland have “reluctantly” made the decision to cancel their on street collections, which were due to take place around the country, this Friday, the charity said in a statement this afternoon.

However, the charity is proceeding with a ‘Virtual Wish Day’ this Friday and is asking the public to donate through the Make-A-Wish website, www.makeawish.ie

“Due to the already present concerns of COVID-19 and the forecast of further outbreaks,  Make-A-Wish Ireland has made the unprecedented decision to cancel their on street collections,” the charity added. 

Instead it’s encouraging members of the public to go “virtual” for this year’s Wish Day. 

With Italy in lockdown, there are few people out at the Piazza del Popolo in Rome.

italy-rome-coronavirus-lockdown Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Just in, Ulster Bank has said it will pledge €500 million through a Working Capital Support fund for SMEs during the outbreak outbreak as well as a range of supports for personal customers including mortgage and loan repayment deferrals for three months.

“With some businesses reporting falling demand, increasing costs and supply chain disruption, the package of support will help across all sectors and where there is the greatest disruption and need,” the bank said in a statement. 

The measures include temporary emergency loans and short-term overdrafts for SMEs.

Measures for personal customers experiencing financial difficulties as result of the Covid-19 outbreak include mortgage and loan repayment deferral for up to 3 months and increased cash withdrawal limit. 

The Department added that public health professionals will contact schools if there is any action to be taken.

Schools “should not take unilateral action,” the department said.

“The Department is deeply conscious of the significance of decisions concerning school closures, and the potential impact any such decisions would have on parents, families and the wider community,” it added.

This is an evolving situation and the health advice is being updated on a daily basis. The Department of Education and Skills and Department of Health will continue to work closely together on this issue.

BREAKING: The Department of Education has said there is no advice to close schools in Ireland “at this point”.

In a statement this afternoon, it said it was liaising closely with the Department of Health on this matter.

The Department of Education has said that any decision to close schools will be made on public health advice.

“There is no such advice at this point,” it said. “It is essential that any decisions regarding responses to Covid-19 are proportionate, necessary and based on specific public health advice. No other response is appropriate.”

Meanwhile in Qatar, the country’s Ministry of Public Health has indefinitely banned serving shisha at coffee shops and restaurants to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Qatar News Agency has said.

The Gulf state took other measures, including the suspension of classes at schools and universities.

The Qatar News Agency tweeted that the suspension will start on 10 March and will continue until further notice.

 

The Courts Service is the latest body to provide an update this afternoon.

It says it’s established a contingency planning group to review its plans to meet the challenges caused by the arrival of Covid-19 in Ireland.

“Business continuity plans for courthouses and buildings are being updated and reviewed, and will be monitored on an ongoing basis. Official HSE guidance has issued to staff, and is being followed,” the Courts Service says.

“Communications plans are in place for judges, staff and court users – for use in the event of any changes to schedules or cancellations.”

It adds that there are no current plans to cancel court sittings but contingency plans are in place and are being constantly reviewed.

greece-virus-outbreak Workers wearing protective suits spraying disinfectant in an Athens class room. Source: Thanassis Stavrakis/PA Images

Greece has become the latest European country to order a shutdown of schools and universities.

“The government has decided to suspend the operation of all educational institutions nationwide for the next 14 days,” health minister Vassilis Kikilias told reporters.

“We must all behave in a responsible way. Parents must confine their children. The measure is designed to slow the spread of the illness,” he said.

Greece has identified 89 cases so far, most of them in the west of the country but also in Athens, Thessaloniki and the islands of Evia and Lesbos.

The National Transport Authority has issued a statement after engaging with operators such as Dublin Bus, Irish Rail, Luas and Bus Éireann.

It says it is continually monitoring the public transport landscape in respect to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The NTA says: “We are actively engaged with Senior Health officials and all operators will continue to follow whatever advice we are given to assist us in dealing with Covid-19.

“Overall public transport has seen a reduction in passenger numbers by some operators estimated at approximately 5%. The Authority will continue to monitor transport patterns and will respond with the operators.

“Business Continuity plans are in place and will be enacted in a way that is proportionate to the situation as it evolves. Any actions that are taken will be guided by the National Public Health Emergency Team and the advice of the Chief Medical Officers.”

Broadcaster Sky has said one of its employees in Cardiff in Wales has been diagnosed with Covid-19.

A Sky spokesman said the contact centre at the Capital Quarter in Tyndall Street, Cardiff, has now been closed for a deep clean and will reopen on Thursday.

The spokesman said: “We can confirm that a Sky colleague in our Cardiff contact centre has been diagnosed with Covid-19 and they are self-isolating at home.

“Protecting our people is – and always will be – our top priority and so we are closing the contact centre today and sending everyone home as a precaution. We’re contacting anyone who has been in contact with our colleague and the centre itself will be deep cleaned before re-opening on Thursday.”

The Sky offices are located opposite the headquarters of the Welsh NHS body Public Health Wales.

The EU has this afternoon praised Italy for its “bold steps” to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“We commend the Italian authorities for the very courageous measures they are taking,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission’s executive vice president.

“We know that they will put a great strain on the Italian people, but it’s better to take those bold measures now to protect as many people as possible from the virus,” he said.

“We will support Italy and its people by any means and measures at our disposal.”

BREAKING: The Irish Cancer Society has taken the decision to cancel all Daffodil Day street collections and events that were scheduled for 27 March.

Its CEO Averil Power said: “We have made this decision to protect the health and wellbeing of our patients, volunteers and supporters.

“We also want to focus all our energies on providing cancer patients and their families with the information, advice and support they need at this time.”

The Portuguese and French top soccer leagues are also set to go behind closed doors, with two separate announcements made today. 

On Monday, Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League match at the Parc des Princes against Borussia Dortmund this week was ordered to be played behind closed doors.

Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 games would be “fully behind closed doors,” the league said in a statement with further details on arrangements provided following a board meeting.

So far in France 1,606 cases of COVID-19 infections have been recorded and 30 deaths.

The Department of Education itself has provided an update.

It says: “The Department of Education and Skills is liaising closely with the Department of Health on a continuing basis. 

“Any decision to close schools will be made on public health advice. There is no such advice at this point. It is essential that any decisions regarding responses to Covid-19 are proportionate, necessary and based on specific public health advice. No other response is appropriate.

“Public health professionals will contact schools if there is any action to be taken. Schools should not take unilateral action.  

“Schools, pre-schools and higher education settings  have been provided with advice and guidance in respect of Covid-19. There is up to date guidance for schools and parents on education.ie/covid19.

“The Department is  deeply conscious of the significance of decisions concerning school closures, and the potential  impact any such decisions would have on parents, families and the wider community.”

More from Fianna Fáil’s Byrne now.

He says that he suggested that contingency planning for exams should be under way given that schools have closed in other jurisdictions.

Department of Health chief medical officer Tony Holohan is set to write to schools again this week, Byrne added.

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In cinematic news, James Bond has been joined by Peter Rabbit in having a delayed theatrical release.

After the latest Bond flick No Time to Die was moved from April to November, Peter Rabbit 2 has now also been postponed.

It had been due to come out on 27 March but has now been pushed back to 7 August by Sony.

The previous Peter Rabbit was one of 2018′s top animated releases, grossing $351 million worldwide, including a hefty $236 million internationally.

Fianna Fáil’s education spokesperson Thomas Byrne has tweeted to say that he met senior officials at the Department of Education today.

They told him there is currently no plan for large scale school closures.

“They say they’ll be guided by public advice which at the moment is not to have large scale closures,” he said. 

With the entire population of Italy now on lockdown due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus, there have been questions about why the Irish authorities are not implementing more severe restrictions.

At last night’s briefing update on the situation in Ireland, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan explained why similar restrictions are not being rolled out here yet. 

European Commision President Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU is to act “very rapidly” to help airlines struggling with the Covid-19 outbreak by proposing a law to stop “ghost flights” to keep airport slots. 

“Slots” are reserved take-off or landing authorisations that airports allocate to airlines. Currently, if an airline does not operate a flight in its allocated slot it can lose it to a competitor.

With the abrupt drop-off in passenger numbers due to the expanding coronavirus crisis, many airlines have taken to flying empty planes – “ghost flights” – to ensure they do not lose their slots.

“The coronavirus outbreak had a major impact on European and international aviation industry. We see that the situation is deteriorating on a daily basis and traffic is expected to decline further,” von der Leyen said in a broadcast statement.

“This is why the Commission will put forward very rapidly legislation regarding the so-called airport slots … it will also decrease emissions by avoiding the so-called ‘ghost flights’ when airlines fly almost empty planes simply to keep their slot,” she said.

Von der Leyen’s proposal means the Commission would put forward an emergency EU draft law to allow airlines to keep those slots without operating ghost flights while the virus emergency goes on.

Such legislation would have to go to the European Parliament for adoption, and then to the European Council representing the EU’s 27 member states for approval.

The Commission president said this initiative was just one example of a raft of measures the EU executive was looking at to alleviate the impact of the new coronavirus, which is proving both deadly and economically damaging as it spreads.

france-virus-outbreak French President Emmanuel Macron, right, salutes medical staff as he leaves the Necker hospital SAMU-SMUR emergency services, after a visit that focused on the coronavirus outbreak Source: Ludovic Marin via PA Images

Speaking this afternoon French President Emmanuel Macron said that France is “just at the beginning” of the coronavirus outbreak which has killed 30 people and infected more than 1,600 people in the country. 

“We’re just at the beginning of this epidemic,” Macron said after visiting the ambulance service in Paris. 

France is the second worst affected country in Europe after Italy. 

Culture Minister Franck Riester and five MPs are among those who have tested positive for the virus.

Macron said the government, which is pressing ahead with nationwide municipal elections scheduled on Sunday, was taking a region-by-region approach to the outbreak. 

“One must not expect that at a given moment, at a given hour in the country, there will be a big shift when everything changes,” he said, adding the government would continue to adopt a “proportional” response to the epidemic.

UK health officials have said that a total of 373 people have tested positive for Covid-19 there as of 9am this morning.

This figure was 319 at 9am yesterday morning.

A total of 26,261 people have been tested.

The Labour Party, meanwhile, has called for price controls on personal protective equipment and pharma products.

Leadership candidate Alan Kelly said in a statement: “We have seen examples in the last twenty four hours of retailers that have recently restocked items like hand sanitiser and protective face masks charging absolutely ridiculous prices for what are normally quite basic items. 

“This kind of carry on is exploiting people who are genuinely afraid of the impact that covid-19 will have on their lives. We have laws that can immediately tackle these disgusting practices and ensure people’s concerns about the supply of goods are addressed.”

Business group Ibec has sent in a statement to say the government’s support measures are a “welcome and necessary benefit for businesses and their employees amidst ongoing Covid-19 developments”.

Its CEO Danny McCoy says: “Employers must now do their part to actively support the Containment and Delay Phases of Covid-19 and, insofar as they possibly can, implement sick pay agreements that will enable their employees to engage in working practices that best support public health and limit and slow down the spread of the virus.”

In Italy, the government there has publicised plans aimed at supporting families as the country goes into lockdown.

Plans are afoot to suspend mortgage and some tax payments to help families deal with the measures in place to restrict their movement.

“The measures (will apply) for all of Italy,” Deputy Economy Minister Laura Castelli said.

Castelli said the family support measures could include “the suspension of the payment of (salary) withholdings and contributions” to various Italian tax funds.

Some banks expect Italy’s economy to contract by 1% between April and June.

“We are worried about this and for this reason we pushed the banking system to give as much as possible (on the) suspension of mortgages,” she said.

In an update from University College Dublin today, it says that contingency planning is taking place to ensure “our core operations can continue and teaching and learning can be delivered” in line with the relevant health advice. 

“Our contingency planning involves lecturers being asked to consider the use of online methods to deliver lectures and tutorials to support off-campus study,” UCD says.

“It also involves drawing up alternatives to formal examinations, such as replacing them with continuous assessment activity, online assessment or “open book” exams.  In addition, it involves assessing how we can reduce the need for students to assemble and where this is required, such as during examinations, how we can ensure additional space is provided and the time of the event is limited.”

The package outlined by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday aimed at helping the country cope with the effects of Covid-19 have been reported internationally as comparing favourably with what other countries are spending.

Bloomberg has reported today that the €3.1 billion package is four times what Germany is spending per head of population and 30 times what the US is.

Here’s the new cases in Northern Ireland confirmed:

“Four new cases of Covid-19 have been detected in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number to 16.

“All four are adults.

“One case involved recent travel from Northern Italy.

“Three can be traced to a previously reported case that involved recent travel to Northern Italy.”

Premier League side Newcastle United have told fans that players will not sign autographs during the coronavirus crisis.

The club has said players will not shake hands at training as a precaution and the Premier League said pre-match handshakes have been cancelled until further notice.

Newcastle said players will not be available for off-pitch appearances to minimise the risk of them becoming infected.

The BBC is reporting that four new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Northern Ireland.

That brings to 40 the total number of confirmed cases on the island of Ireland. That’ll be confirmed in the next minutes at a press conference due at 2pm from Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency. 

In some other sport-related news, Spain’s La Liga has said all its football games will be played behind closed doors for the next two weeks.

The measures follow the decision of the Spanish High Council of Sports that all sporting events in Spain at state and international level should be played without fans to limit the spread of the virus.

angelus-march-8th-2020-coronavirus St Peter's Square has now been shut down. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

The Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Square and its main basilica were closed to tourists today as part of a broader clampdown aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak. 

The Holy See said the measures will remain in place until 3 April “in order to halt the spread of the coronavirus”.

The Vatican has so far officially confirmed one case of the COVID-19 disease caused by the new virus that has killed 463 people in surrounding Italy in just over two weeks.

A sixth person has died from Covid-19 in the UK.

The news has been confirmed this afternoon by West Hertfordshire NHS Trust.

It said: “Sadly, we can confirm that a man who was being cared for at Watford General Hospital, and had tested positive for Covid-19, has died.

“The patient, who died in the evening of Monday 9 March, was in his early 80s and had underlying health conditions.

“His family has been informed and our thoughts and condolences are with them at this difficult and distressing time.”

Following Ryanair, Aer Lingus are now also suspending all Italian flights amid the lockdown measures in place there.

It is understood that Aer Lingus has decided to suspend flights into and out of Italy from tomorrow until 3 April. All affected customers will be contacted directly. 

My colleague Gráinne Ní Aodha has details here now on what funeral directors have been advised on the protocol if someone dies of Covid-19.

The advice is to postpone funeral services for victims of Covid-19, not to embalm the body, and to bury or cremate the deceased promptly.

It advises that relatives of the deceased should not attend undertakers’ offices or funeral homes, transport for the deceased’s families should not be provided, and funeral instructions should be taken over the phone.

estonia-narva-covid-19-border-check An Estonian border guard checking the temperature of a traveller at a border crossing with Russia. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Some more European-themed updates.

The Spanish government has said it is suspending air traffic from Italy for two weeks.

The Czech Republic has said it will close all schools until further notice, Slovakia has suspended church services and Poland has cancelled mass events all as part of efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19.

In an update from the Irish Pharmacy Union today, it has updated advice for people who feel they may have symptoms of Covid-19.

It says: “The IPU encourages people to have common non-prescription medications for cold, fever and allergies on hand.

“People who require medication on a regular basis should also ensure their prescriptions are up to date. We do not recommend, however, stockpiling medications in large quantities. This is completely unnecessary and could trigger drug shortages.”

As the country begins to get to grips with the scale of the coronavirus, it can sometimes be difficult to cut through the misinformation, noise and confusion to access clear, up-to-date facts. 

TheJournal.ie‘s coronavirus newsletter does just that. 

You can find more details on how to sign up for it here.

Today’s edition written by Nicky Ryan can be found here

newsletter

blindboy-boatclub-mural Source: PA Images

In a separate update, we have details here of how people who attended a performance of the Blindboy Podcast in Clare last month have been required to self-isolate after it was confirmed that a person with the Covid-19 virus was also in the audience.

The HSE letter to those identified as close contacts of the confirmed case: “A case of Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) has been identified in a person who attended the Glór theatre on Saturday 29 February, 2020. As a result, you have been identified as a close contact of the case. To prevent the possible spread of infection, you are required to self-isolate until 14 March, 2020.”

My colleague Garreth MacNamee has details here of how Trinity College Dublin is effectively going into shutdown too. 

It said in a statement: “A further measure which is being implemented from 1pm today is the closure of the Book of Kells exhibition and Old Library, the Science Gallery and the Douglas Hyde Gallery. Notices of these closures will be posted online and at the main entrances to the college.

“Both of these measures are being taken in the interests of the health and well-being of our students and staff and to decrease any potential impacts on the larger community.”

“The decisions are based on the concept of social distancing which has been recommended by many experts. Our goal is to decrease the number of instances that lead to students, staff, and visitors coming together in large groups in close proximity with each other.”

There’s been a lot of updates in very quick succession on Covid-19 in Ireland and beyond this afternoon.

There was bad news for Irish football fans hoping to see the team in the Euro 2020 playoff in Slovakia, with the football association there confirming the game will be played behind closed doors.

And, after the Irish government changed its advice to recommend not traveling to Italy, Ryanair said it would be cancelling all flights to and from the country from Friday night.

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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