Ireland’s health minister has become the latest victim of the so-called “Corona challenge” after two people approached him in public and coughed in his face on purpose.
Simon Harris condemned the incident as “pathetic” and “disgusting”, adding that the man and woman involved walked away laughing.
He was responding to a question about the worrying trend which sees young people video themselves coughing into people’s faces and then upload it on to social media.
Mr Harris said he was targeted as he walked to his office on Tuesday.
He said: “A man and a woman on the street thought it was hilariously funny to come up and cough at me out loud and then run off laughing.
“When we think, particularly of older people, who are being targeted in relation to this, and there seems to be some sort of social media game, but it’s not a game, it’s disgusting, where you target people in your community, generally older people.
“You go up and cough in their face, video it, have a laugh and run off – just think if it was your granny, granddad, mother, father, your own friend with an underlying health condition like cystic fibrosis.
“The Irish people have been absolutely amazing in relation to this, but anything that takes off in relation to that on social media will have to be dealt with by the full rigours of all of the powers of the State.
“There’s nothing amusing about it, it’s quite pathetic.”
Postmen and women will now not just deliver the post, they will ring the bell to check in on older and vulnerable people living our communities, being a practical & TRUSTED point of connection with our most vulnerable people. @Postvox #Covid19Ireland— MerrionStreet.ie #StayLocal (@merrionstreet) March 25, 2020
Sinn Fein TD Louise O’Reilly said she pressed the HSE on personal protection equipment.
“It is something that is being repeatedly raised with us and it is obviously an issue of concern for frontline health care workers, including home care workers,” she said.
“The HSE have told us they are expecting a delivery on Sunday and that should alleviate some of the pressure.
Meanwhile, it was announced on Wednesday that An Post workers are to call into the homes of older and vulnerable people to help distribute food and medical supplies.
The service will also deliver post from the elderly for free to encourage them to stay in contact with their loved ones.
The announcement came as An Post revealed it is delivering Covid-19 public information booklets to every household across the country.
The booklet, which was produced jointly between the Government and the HSE, is being delivered free of charge.
An Post chief executive David McRedmond said: “Postmen and women will now not just deliver the post, they will call in on older and vulnerable people living in the communities, being a practical and trusted person usually known to those people to help them.
“They’ll go in with a set of questions, such as do they need food, do they need a pharmacy, do they need to send out messages?
“The postman or postwoman will then take that back and we will look after that and make sure that that gets fulfilled.
“The second thing is to help people stay in touch.
“We will also take parcels and letters from the elderly and the vulnerable, and we estimate that’s about around 10% of homes – about 160,000 homes – we will collect letters and parcels and distribute them for free.”
An Post is also hoping to help deliver newspapers to homes across the country from next week.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “The public information booklet explains what we’re doing as a country, what we need to do to slow the spread of the virus and brings together the best advice from our medical health experts.
I think there are many things happening in our country right now that give us hope for today and for the future. Leo Varadkar
“We may think we know what we should be doing but we live in an age of misinformation and disinformation, and we’re in a constant battle to get accurate information.
“This is the basic piece of information that everyone needs to know and absorb as soon as you get this through your letterbox. It’s very easy to be misled and this book cuts through the confusion and in doing so performs the vital function.
“I think there are many things happening in our country right now that give us hope for today and for the future.
“The determination of people to help others and to serve others is a shining example of Ireland at its best. Also people providing vital services, in our hospitals and supermarkets and in our sorting rooms.”
Mr Varadkar said Ireland will not now reach the previously estimated 15,000 cases of coronavirus in Ireland by the end of March.
He said: “That was based on a 30 to 33% increase in new cases every day, that being an exponential increase, that hasn’t happened yet.
“It looks like we’re going to come in certainly lower than 15,000.
“That is of course 15,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, there are many more cases that are not confirmed.
“I hope that is some evidence of some of the measures that people are taking are having some effect, but what is certainly the case is the number of new cases is continuing to rise.”
It is heartening to see how the people of Ireland have embraced the measures needed to interrupt #COVID19.— Dr Tony Holohan (@CMOIreland) March 24, 2020
We are now in the crucial weeks of our response. New measures announced today are being implemented to save lives.
Read them. Know them. Act now. https://t.co/6nu04ERiHR
He stressed the figures should not be taken as a sign that Ireland is containing the virus.
Elsewhere, new rules have been introduced in Ireland for people seeking testing for coronavirus.
Patients requesting a test will now have to display two major symptoms – a fever and at least one sign of respiratory disease, like a cough or shortness of breath – before they are referred.
People will also have to fall into a particular group to be tested.
This includes those in contact with a confirmed case, healthcare workers, vulnerable groups and those who live in long-term care facilities.
Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said: “What’s clear is that the volume of people who are seeking testing has been very large and there has been a very significant increase in the number of people coming forward.
“Over the last 10 days something in the order of 20,000 people a day have sought testing.
“If we were to test at that regime we would, by a considerable distance, become the number one country in the world for testing.”
He said a lot of people requesting tests are not appropriate for it.
He went on: “We needed to think about focusing our case definition to identify people with a higher probability of having this particular infection.”
Around 1,300 tests are being performed in Ireland every day and that is expected to rise to around 3,000 a day by next week, and to around 16,000 daily in the coming weeks.
On Tuesday, Mr Varadkar introduced a number of sweeping measures to tackle coronavirus, including restricting all public gatherings to four people.
The Taoiseach said all non-essential retailers should close, as well as all theatres, clubs and bingo halls, and people should work from home unless that is not possible and their role is absolutely essential.
The measures were introduced as the seventh coronavirus-linked death was confirmed. The victim was a male from the east of the country with an underlying health condition.
There were 204 new cases confirmed in the state on Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,329.
Meanwhile, parents have been told they will not pay creche fees during the coronavirus crisis.
Measures have been unveiled that will see the Government pay the wages of staff in creches.
The support package will see the wages of childcare workers effectively paid by the State for the next 12 weeks with an additional payment to providers to meet some of the ongoing running costs.