Ten further people with coronavirus have died in Ireland, taking the country’s death toll to 46.
There were 200 new diagnoses of Covid-19 reported on Sunday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 2,615.
The figures were reported hours after it was announced that a Dublin hotel and conference centre will be the first of a series of new coronavirus centres for isolation and stepdown care.
The new centres are part of a ramping-up of preparations across the healthcare sector in Ireland for the anticipated surge in coronavirus cases.
On Sunday, health chiefs also detailed efforts to increase critical care capacity amid fears that ICU capacity could be overwhelmed at the peak of the outbreak.
They said the peak was expected in the middle of April but cautioned it was impossible to predict the exact timing.
#welcomehome "EI9019 Failte abhaile. Dublin ATC are proud to be guiding you home safely today. On behalf of the IAA and the entire nation I would like to express our appreciation for all you are doing during this time of need. Audio at https://t.co/8aduYZwCsc #covid19ireland— IAA (@IAApress) March 29, 2020
On Sunday afternoon, the first of dozens of planned flights transporting a 200 million euro-plus order of personal protective equipment from China landed at Dublin airport.
The weekend marked the start of a further major clampdown on movement in Ireland.
The restrictions were ordered by the Government on Friday night amid fears that critical care hospitals will soon exceed capacity.
People have been ordered to remain in their homes in all but a limited set of specific circumstances until Sunday April 12.
Eight of the latest victims were male, two were female. Six of the deaths occurred in the east of the country, three in the north west and one in the south.
The median age of the 10 people who died was 77.
Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan expressed his condolences.
“While we continue to build our capacity for intensive care, our strategy remains to prevent people from needing intensive care in the first place,” he said.
“We know the virus will not survive if we prevent it from passing among ourselves.
“The enhanced restrictions announced on Friday aim to slow down and restrict the spread of the virus.”
The Citywest hotel in Dublin will provide 750 rooms for people who are unable to self-isolate due to the nature of their own living arrangements. It will open at the end of the week.
The Citywest conference centre is being turned into a stepdown care facility for Covid-19 patients who are recovering from the infection.
The 450 beds earmarked for the facility will only be used once capacity in hospital settings has been exceeded.
It will start operating, if needed, in two or three weeks’ time.
We are certainly working towards the peak in mid-April - so over the next two to three weeksAnne O'Connor, HSE
Similar isolation/stepdown facilities will be opened in other urban centres across Ireland, including Cork, Limerick and Galway.
Senior HSE officials announced the moves at the Citywest centre on Sunday morning.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said it was important to plan for the worst-case scenario.
“We have to be prepared,” he said.
By utilising private hospital facilities and securing additional equipment, the HSE is set to double the number of critical care beds from 250 to 500.
As of Sunday morning, 88 patients with Covid-19 were in an ICU bed in Ireland.
However, there are fears that number is likely to soar in the coming days and weeks.
Mr Reid said about 1,700 additional beds with ventilation support would be available, with plans to increase that number by 100 each week for the next 10 weeks.
HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor predicted around 1,200 ICU beds would be required in the peak of the outbreak.
She said it was impossible to be certain when that peak might come but said HSE planning models suggested it could be mid-April.
“I don’t know that any of us can really say exactly when the peak is going to be,” she said.
“We are certainly working towards the peak in mid-April – so over the next two to three weeks. And that is what we are planning for, but clearly we don’t know. But we do have to work on some basis when it comes to planning, so we are planning for a peak kind of between the 10th and the 14th of April, around that time.”
Mr Reid said the hospital system would come under significant pressure as he acknowledged that the HSE was nervous about what lay ahead.
“Our hospital system in particular will be under significant pressure in the coming weeks,” he said.
Mr Reid urged the public to support healthcare workers in any way they could.
“I know the public is nervous, our healthcare workers are very nervous too and we are nervous for them,” he said.
“So it is going to be a difficult period. So this is a special call-out from me as the CEO of the HSE to really support our healthcare workers in the coming weeks.”