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Ireland to ban mass gatherings if coronavirus outbreak worsens

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Warning: Chris Whitty

Warning: Chris Whitty

PA

Warning: Chris Whitty

People in the Republic of Ireland will be banned from attending funerals and bringing their children to crèches under the Government's worst case scenario plans to tackle the coronavirus.

It comes as four more people from the same family were diagnosed with the virus last night - the first cluster of cases there. It brings the total number of cases in the Republic to six.

The two parents and children from Co Clare recently returned from a holiday in northern Italy where over 100 have died from the virus.

They were last night being treated in a hospital in the west of Ireland.

A major contact tracing exercise is now under way to find out if others in close contact with the family were exposed, including school pupils.

Meanwhile, the battle plan set out in the event of a major escalation in cases in the south envisages gardaí and even army will be drafted in to deal with potential public order issues.

The high level briefing for Cabinet ministers says the Irish Government will stockpile food and medicine while restrictions on purchases will be introduced to prevent panic buying in the shops.

Central to their emergency plans will be the introduction of bans on mass gatherings including at shopping centres, churches and all forms of public transport.

Leading infectious disease consultant, Dr Jack Lambert of the Mater Hospital in Dublin, said yesterday the expected arrival next weekend of a significant number of Italians who had booked to come to Ireland for the cancelled Six Nations rugby match increases the risk of person-to-person spread of the new coronavirus.

Many Italian rugby fans will continue to come on a tourist break to Ireland this weekend, despite the Six Nations match being postponed over a week ago.

Northern Italy is particularly badly hit by the virus.

"There could be a potential risk of person to person spread if they come and congregate and are infected with the virus," he said.

"I think maybe the cancellation of the rugby game, disappointing though it was, has to be seen as a good first step given the way the coronavirus has increased in numbers in Italy.

"The government has to think about what the next step is and whether they should think about restricting travel from high risk coronavirus regions. It may be a first step but not a final step."

Meanwhile, the UK saw its biggest day-on-day increase in coronavirus cases yesterday, with 87 people now confirmed to have the virus.

Three of the 32 new cases recorded in England were passed on in the UK, raising fears that community transmission may now be taking hold.

The jump comes as England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warned that a UK epidemic is looking "likely".

Elsewhere, Italy ordered schools to close nationwide until March 15 in a bid to contain Covid-19, saying the "prudent suspension" was taken after a careful analysis of how the epidemic was spreading.

Belfast Telegraph