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THE THIRTY-THIRD DÁIL reconvened today – the second time since the general election result – and the new TDs discussed the threat that the new coronavirus Covid-19 poses to Ireland and abroad.

After four new confirmed cases were announced last night, Health Minister Simon Harris said that schools will be impacted in different ways by confirmed cases, but added that it was important that schools did not act unilaterally, and that people shouldn’t panic.

Here is the latest update on where we are on Covid-19:

  • There are 9 people on the island of Ireland who have been confirmed to have Covid-19: three in Northern Ireland, and six in the Republic of Ireland
  • At least two schools in Clare have issued closure notices after it was announced last night that there were four new confirmed cases in the west of Ireland
  • Italy now has over 3,000 cases, and over 100 deaths. Yesterday Italy announced its schools would close until mid-March to slow the spread
  • The World Health Organisation has increased the death rate from over 2% to 3.4%
  • The HSE gave an update at 2pm (no new cases confirmed); a briefing from the Department of Health is due at 8.30pm.

If you want more information, you can visit the HSE’s page on the coronavirus, or the WHO page where updates are also available.

If you want more specific information, you can search for your question on our Q&A article, in which we answer our readers’ questions with expert advice. 

You can catch up on today developments below. 

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 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.

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

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

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

That’s all from our liveblog this evening. 

As noted below, the media will be briefed on the latest Covid-19 developments in Ireland at 8.30pm this evening. 

Stick with TheJournal.ie for all the latest updates from the briefing. 

The Department of Health will be briefing the media on the latest Covid-19 updates at 8.30pm. 

Ossian Smyth is an Irish Green Party TD now speaking about the worker who works in the sandwich bar or in a pub, who fear they won’t get paid if they have to self isolate.

Giving some advice on what to tell children in relation to Covid-19, McDonald, having had her own experience, says: “Don’t dismiss their concerns and fears, be honest.”

On large gatherings, McDonald said the medical experts should decide that.

McDonald’s two children attend Scoil Chaitríona, a school that has closed for two weeks after a pupil tested positive for Covid-19. 

“My own family has been affected … my son and daughter are now self isolating at home,” she tells the Dáil. 

McDonald says her children’s “delight at two weeks off has well and truly passed”.

She said there is no sport, no hanging out with friends, “no craic whatsoever”.

She said the “reality has dawned on them very quickly”.

McDonald thanked those that have sent good wishes to her and her family.

“There is a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty” out there, she says.

Mary Lou McDonald says advice and protection for workers must be guaranteed.

Workers need assurances that they can come forward and will be protected, she says, adding that special attention must be paid to low-pay workers.

She says those that live week-to-week will fear losing out on pay if they are required to self-isolate.

marylou Source: Oireachtas TV

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald says a meeting of the north-south ministerial council should be convened as a matter of urgency.

“We need to increase capacity rapidly,” she says, adding that no bed should close.

The beds as part of the winter initiative which are due to close on 31 March should not close, says McDonald.

The Sinn Féin leader says beds need to be freed up by discharging those that are well.

This will require more home help hours, she says.

Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe says the HSE helpline should be open longer and he says test results for people should come back sooner as people who are tested are very stressed.

“If we are in a war, we need a war Cabinet,” he says, urging the government talks to progress.

As regards travel restrictions, Stephen Donnelly asks if flights from the restricted areas should be allowed, stating that people from Italy and the areas affected will be travelling to Dublin this weekend.

He says it is a question that needs to be asked.

Donnelly says the Department of Foreign Affairs website could also be more clear.

Schools have also not been directed to not travel through the hot zones, and Donnelly asks why schools aren’t being asked not to go there.

donnelly Source: Oireachtas TV

Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly says a lot of people are worried right now, particularly those that are susceptible.

Children are increasingly concerned too as they are getting some false information on social media.

He commends communication from HSE, but he says HSE Facebook messaging has been poor.

He says some information is not being shared, and says when it came to the first case, he saw no reason why the mode of transport used was not revealed.

He says as much information that can be shared should be shared.

joe Source: Oireachtas TV

Education Minister Joe McHugh is up next.

His department has been in touch with schools that have been forced to close.

All schools have been provided with information, as well as child-friendly posters and videos.

“There is no need for any school to close unless advised to by the HSE,” says the minister.

Earlier today Harris said schools must not act unilaterally.

simon Source: Oireachtas TV

Coveney urges people to take out travel insurance if they are travelling overseas.

 Travel advice will be constantly reviewed, he says.

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney is speaking now.

He says his department has been dealing with citizens in areas affected overseas for some weeks.

He urges people to register on the website so they can provide assistance to those impacted.

harris Source: Oireachtas TV

Ireland remains in the containment phase, says Simon Harris.

“I understand just how anxious people are about this outbreak,” he says, adding that the risk is low for people who have not travelled to the impacted areas or who have not come in contact with an infected case.

He says health workers are working flat out and should be commended.

This is a public health emergency, he says.

Harris says airports and seaports are directly liaising with health authorities in relation to Covid-19. 

The Department of Transport has been in touch with all public transport operators, he says. 

Proposals on social protection supports and sick pay will be considered in Monday’s sub-committee meeting on Covid-19, Harris adds. 

 

Harris is briefing the Dáil on the confirmed cases to date, along with the number of tests that have been carried out. 

Health Minister Simon Harris is now addressing the Dáil regarding Covid-19. 

“This is neither a time for panic or a time for complacency. Our approach will remain both vigilant and proportionate,” he says.

The patient who has died in the UK had  been “in an out of hospital” for other reasons but was admitted on Wednesday evening to the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust and tested positive.

The news comes as cases of coronavirus in the UK have more than doubled in 48 hours as the country moves towards the delay phase of tackling the virus.

Some 116 people have tested positive, including 105 in England, three in Wales, six in Scotland and three in Northern Ireland.

Just two days ago there were 51 UK cases.

A number of NUIG students studying on Erasmus programmes in Italy have been asked to return home following the announcement that Italian authorities have closed all schools and colleges in the country. 

Ten students who were studying in Northern regions – the centre of the outbreak – have been asked to return to Ireland and to follow the advice of the HSE and Department of Foreign Affairs. 

A further nine students have not been asked to return from Italy as they are not studying in the Northern region, a spokesperson said.

Other universities, including UCD which has around 30 students on Erasmus in Italy and Trinity College Dublin, which has 22 students on Erasmus, said they are not requesting their students return but are asking them to inform them if they intend on travelling back to Ireland.

A statement from the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust said: “Sadly, we can confirm that an older patient with underlying health conditions has died.

“The patient has previously been in and out of hospital for non-coronavirus reasons, but on this occasion was admitted and last night tested positive for coronavirus.

“The family has been informed and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.

“We will not be commenting further and ask that everybody respects the family’s privacy.”

A number of NUIG students studying on Erasmus programmes in Italy have been asked to return home following the announcement that Italian authorities have closed all schools and colleges in the country. 

Ten students who were studying in Northern regions – the centre of the outbreak – have been asked to return to Ireland and to follow the advice of the HSE and Department of Foreign Affairs. 

A further nine students have not been asked to return from Italy as they are not studying in the Northern region, a spokesperson said.

Other universities, including UCD which has around 30 students on Erasmus in Italy and Trinity College Dublin, which has 22 students on Erasmus, said they are not requesting their students return but are asking them to inform them if they intend on travelling back to Ireland.

Authorities have confirmed the first coronavirus-related death in the UK. 

One patient with underlying health conditions has died after testing positive for coronavirus, the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust said.

shutterstock_1593161737 Source: Shutterstock/Robson90

Primark has confirmed that it is asking the majority of staff in its Dublin headquarters to work from home tomorrow. 

In a statement this evening, the company said: 

“In order to test our operational readiness and IT capability should a situation arise where we need to temporarily close one of our offices, we have asked the majority of our employees in our Dublin headquarters and Reading office to work remotely on Friday 6 March. 

“We have not had any cases of Covid-19 among our employees.” 

Dr Ghebreyesus said WHO is “concerned that in some countries the level of political commitment and the actions that demonstrate that commitment do not match the level of the threat we all face”. 

He said: 

“This is not a drill. This is not the time to give up, This is not the time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops.

“Countries have been planning for scenarios like this for decades. Now is the time to act on those plans.” 

He called on governments to educate their public in knowing what the symptoms are and how they can protect themselves. 

He also called on governments to increase their testing capacity, get hospitals ready and ensure essential supplies are available. 

“If countries act aggressively to find, isolate and treat cases, and to trace every contact, they can change the trajectory of this epidemic.

“If we take the approach that there’s nothing we can do, that will quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s in our hands.”  

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of WHO told the briefing that that the Covid-19 epidemic is “a threat for every country, rich and poor”. 

He said WHO is “concerned that some countries have either not taken this seriously enough or have decided there is nothing they can do”. 

In a press briefing this afternoon, the World Health Organization confirmed that there is now a total of 95,265 reported cases of Covid-19 globally, and 3,281 deaths. 

Police in Northern Ireland may face 12-hour shifts and cancelled rest days if coronavirus has a serious impact on staffing levels, the PSNI has said. 

This afternoon, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne stressed the potential impact of Covid-19 is very much unknown at this stage.

However, he revealed contingency plans are in place if high numbers of his officers are struck down by the disease.

Speaking of the possibility of 12-hour shifts and cancelled rest days, he said: “It’s not a long-term solution but we can use it to boost the number of people available.

“At the moment we are not complacent, and we can use a lot of experience from operating at pace at different times, whether it is dealing with complex investigations or serious disorder to keep officers and staff available to work.”

Byrne said that the PSNI also has to look at “how we will support all our staff through this difficult time because we are dealing with uncertainty, see how we can get them back to work quickly when they fall ill”. 

The Chief Constable also revealed he is in discussions with Stormont’s Justice Department about securing bolstered powers to enable officers to detain affected people who might be unwilling to quarantine themselves.

He said he hoped powers handed to police in England could be replicated in Northern Ireland.

Asked if he was concerned about the risk to law and order, he responded: “It’s easy to speculate some sort of scenes of a horror film where we are dealing with pandemic and virus, but at the moment our assumption is actually that as people fall ill, that will quieten down the calls for service from us.”

A second case of coronavirus has been confirmed in Wales, the country’s chief medical officer has announced.

Dr Frank Atherton said: “We have identified yesterday evening the second Welsh case. It’s a patient who has travel history to Italy, a Cardiff resident who has been assessed by infectious disease experts, and who is being managed in a setting in Wales.”

He said the patient, who he said he could not identify but was not thought to have a connection to the first patient who tested positive for the disease, was being treated in the Welsh NHS.

He said the patient was identified from community testing at their home.

Hello, Hayley Halpin here now.

I’ll be taking you through all the latest Covid-19 updates this evening. 

Eight of the new confirmed patients contracted the virus in the UK and it is not clear yet whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad. 

So the numbers in the Republic of Ireland haven’t changed today (so far), but in England, the Department of Health has said there are 25 further confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus. 

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said 17 were diagnosed after recently travelling from recognised countries or who were from recognised clusters under investigation. 

The HSE says there is an “increasing preparedness” for the possibility of outbreaks/clusters or ongoing community transmission in Ireland, which would see us move into the mitigation phase.   
  • The national ambulance service is now providing a “key element” to the community testing model (swabs can now be taken in people’s homes) which will “alleviate pressure on acute hospitals”. 
  • The HSE says its procurement team has been very active in sourcing key health supplies in what it says has become a “volatile market”.
  • The HSE has also invested €20 million to increase its ICU bed capacity 

Our reporter Nicky Ryan has been speaking to Richard Grogan, employment law specialist, who explained workers’ current entitlements if they have to self-isolate:

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

RTÉ’s Health Correspondent Fergal Bowers reports a final year exam for RCSI students has been moved forward by seven weeks:

Thoughts and prayers with all 300 of them.

The government said people should not be de-incentivised to disclose symptoms or to inform their employer of exposure to Covid-19. 

The Workplace Relations Commission has issued a guidance note on Covid-19 for employers and employees, asking employers to be as flexible as possible and explore options as the need might arise. 

“The government recognises that the State itself is the largest employer in the country, and guidance will be issued today in respect of the arrangements that will apply to all Civil and Public Service employees

“The government acknowledges that there are a wide range of scenarios where businesses and employees will be potentially affected by the impacts of Covid-19.”

The Taoiseach has asked officials to meet with employer and trade union representatives to discuss how assistance can be best provided. 

The government has just issued a statement on income support for employees who are required to self-isolate. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said workers “should receive income support” if they have to self-isolate in accordance with medical advice.

“This will require flexibility and responsiveness by employers and in government social protection schemes,” he said. 

Varadkar said proposals will be considered by the Cabinet subcommittee on Monday. 

HSE chief Paul Reid told reporters at today’s briefing that the HSE will be taking up the issue of misinformation with social media platforms:

“For us in terms of social media, we’ve had good support today from all the social media platforms. There have been occasions where somebody may post a video, something of a test being carried out on an area.”

He said this is “not good for the public and not good for us”.

Our reporter Christina Finn has an update from the Dáil:

In the Dáil, on a discussion about Europe, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett that if Ireland has to fall foul of intellectual property rules relating to vaccines or rules governing medicine its distribution, that should be done.

He says private hospitals, if needed, must also be used, even if that is against health policy. “If rules or fiscal rules or state aid rules need to be broken then that should be done,” he says.

Boyd Barrett also states that if there is any profiteering on the back of this virus, people and companies should face serious consequences.

If there is an attempt to raise prices or medicine, equipment, hand sanitisers, “it should be severely punished”.

“Severe sanctions should be imposed if there are any signs of that across Europe,” he said.

In international news: NATO has said that it has confirmed three cases of the novel coronavirus linked to its military headquarters in Belgium – a civilian employee and two family members.

The employee had recently travelled to Italy. NATO said the employee and family members had not visited its Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) facility in Mons, southern Belgium, since returning from Italy.

“There are three confirmed COVID-19 cases within our wider SHAPE community,” NATO said in a statement.

Our reporter Rónán Duffy has been looking at public transport challenges:

The use of public transport is one that has been raised in reference to Ireland’s response to the coronavirus.

The National Bus and Rail Union has been raising concern about its members’ interactions with the public. General Secretary Dermot O’Leary told TheJournal.ie that the union has a number of concerns:

“Bus Éireann coaches don’t have protective screens for example. So the drivers feel they are vulnerable, there is a lot of interaction with passengers across the country, north, south, east and west.”

“The other issue is the capacity issue on public transport these days, anyone who uses public transport these days be it trains, Darts, commuter services , Dublin Bus or buses in other cities. Some of these voices you read are saying to keep outside three feet from people with allergies or sneezing or anything like that, well you wouldn’t find three inches on packed public transport.”

In a statement, the National Transport Authority responded to a number of queries and to anecdotal observations that passenger numbers have decline on some services:

“NTA and the transport operators have been engaging with the health authorities. The cleaning practices of transport operators are in line with advice provided by the health authorities. We have no data to suggest that passenger numbers are down.”

This long-read from Vox explains what connection they think bats have with the Covid-19 outbreak:

“Bats are hunted and eaten in China, and in fact were brought into the markets in the case of SARS, and that is how other animals, including people, were infected.”

In other good news, coronavirus recovery cases have been overtaking the number of new cases for the past few days:

20943 Source: Statista

Dr Doyle said that there are some positives for Ireland in tackling Covid-19:

“It has emerged elsewhere so that has given us some time to gather some information to find out about it, and also to prepare. We do have previous knowledge of other Coronaviruses and other infectious diseases. So the principles of management will remain the same, whether that’s from a public health perspective, or a clinical perspective.

“Investigating each of the cases, implementing prevention measures their public health measures and control also control public health measures. And we do know that many of these things work.

“We do have previous experience with pandemic influenza and SARS. We are in a developed world health healthcare system.

“And the other thing is, and I think it’s really important to emphasise at this point is that I think the Irish people are a nation who have solidarity. And we have come through previous crises.”

Cormican also adds this fun fact: “It’s called Corona because some people think that the pictures of it looked like a crown. I can’t see it myself but that’s why it’s called coronavirus.”

Parents of children at the Glasnevin school raised a number of questions at a townhall-style meeting this week, and one was “why don’t you just test everybody?”

Professor Martin Cormican, National lead for infection control and antimicrobial resistance, HSE says that testing contacts too early, before they get sick, can give a false reassurance, and is not the best use of lab testing capacity.

In a Claire Byrne poll, a panel of over 1,000 adults were asked whether they were “concerned about Covid-19 in Ireland”.

The results showed that most people were:

  • 62% of people said Yes, they were concerned
  • 30% of people said No they weren’t concerned
  • 8% said they didn’t know.

The results showed that the group who were most concerned were women (67%) and those aged 55 and over (66%), as well as those aged between 35-44 (63%).

People aged 18-24, and men were the groups who were least worried (57% of each of these groups). 

59% of the ABC1 groups were concerned, versus 64% of the C2DEF group.

Dr Sarah Doyle, a HSE Consultant in Public Health Medicine, said that there were “a number of reasons” why Ireland is concerned about the virus:

“It’s new. So we’re still learning about it. There can be considerable individual and family impact.

“There’s no vaccine for prevention, and to no treatment. Because it’s new everybody is susceptible.

“It will have considerable impact on health services, we know that from experience elsewhere. And if there are health care staff infected that will also have an impact on healthcare services.

“It will also have considerable social and economic impacts,” she said.

Our reporter Adam Daly is at a weekly HSE briefing on the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Commenting at a briefing this afternoon, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said about the four new cases in the west of Ireland:

All those cases have been placed in infection control environments have been treated for that matter.

Reid says contact tracing of this cluster of cases is a “significant challenge”.

On the Glasnevin case, he said:

We took a very proactive engagement with the relevant areas involved and decisions that were made very promptly with the communities involved for the public representatives for the area were briefed in detail.

Reid says the HSE will follow that same line of contact in all cases as was done in Glasnevin, ie, issuing letters and meeting with parents.

Our political correspondent Christina Finn is watching Dáil proceedings closely, here’s a quick note from her on what to expect:

“The Dáil is back today for the second time since the general election. There are two matters up for discussion – the European Council meeting held last month and the outbreak of Covid-19.

“It’s a six and a half hour sitting today – so we might not get to statements on the coronavirus until after 5pm.

“The FG parliamentary party meeting met at noon today to discuss Micheál Martin’s latest offer of government formation, but it is understood there was a big focus on Covid-19, where Minister Harris briefed TDs and senators on the latest.”

You can follow her tweets here: @christinafinn8.

Over at the Dáil, it has gathered today for the second time since the general election. 

All party leaders are in the middle of giving a statement on Covid-19.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Social Democrat Róisín Shortall have questioned the usefulness of a Cabinet subcommittee on the Covid-19 coronavirus, which is chaired by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Elsewhere, the Central Bank confirmed that one if its employees is being tested for Covid-19. A spokesperson added that the HSE has advised them to continue business as normal, and so its premises remain open today.

Employees have been given the option to work from home.

 

The Central Bank had yesterday advised the firms that it regulates (banks and credit unions, for example) to have a protocol in place to tackle major operational events that might happen in relation to the new coronavirus Covid-19.

Some timing. 

Harris also said that it’s important that the public healthcare protocol is followed where there are confirmed cases, and in the case of schools, that they do not act “unilaterally”.

He added that some information will be given to the public through the media about confirmed cases, without compromising patient confidentiality. 

A quick recap on what we know about the most recent confirmed cases first:

  • Two males and two females in the west of the country were diagnosed with the new coronavirus Covid-19
  • The Health Minister Simon Harris said he was aware of schools in Clare being closed as a result of this, but said that the advice would be different for each school
  • When asked if one person had contracted the virus and spread it to the other three here, or if all four had contracted the virus in north Italy, Harris said that he had been informed that it was the latter
  • “There has been no community spread of the virus,” he said.

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