The operators of Dublin and Cork ports have said imports of food and other essential items have increased since the Covid-19 outbreak here over a month ago.

They said contingencies are in place to ensure ports stay open and supply chains remain intact.

Their trading figures indicate the Covid-19 outbreak has seen increased demand for food and other essential items. 

This is backed up by evidence of panic buying and empty supermarket shelves.

The Port of Cork insists that trade is up and supply chains have been unaffected by the coronavirus outbreak.

At the Port of Cork's deep water terminal in Ringaskiddy, unloading of a Portuguese cargo ship, AS Petronia, began at 5am.

The ship left Costa Rica in Central America a fortnight ago, and tied up in Ringaskiddy in the early hours of this morning. 

Ireland is its first port of call. The ship is carrying more than 2,000 shipping containers which are destined for ports all over Europe. 

There were around 100 shipping containers for Ireland on board, carrying mangos, melons and pineapples, along with four million bananas - a mere week's supply to keep this country going.

Read more: Latest Covid-19 stories

Some of this fruit will be on the shelves of our supermarkets here within two days - other containers are bound for vast warehouses where the fruit will be ripened before being distributed to supermarkets like Supervalu, Aldi, Lidl and Tesco.

The operation to transfer the containers from the ship to the quayside in Ringaskiddy this morning took less than six hours.

The ship had to be ready to sail again to catch midday's high tide.

The AS Petronia makes the trip from central and South America to Europe on rotation several times each year. At 210m in length, it is the biggest cargo ship to dock in this country. 

It is one of hundreds that make up a supply chain bringing food and other goods to Ireland from all over the world, before shipping Irish food exports in the other direction. 

The Port of Cork said these supply chains will not be broken by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Ireland imported more than €8 billion worth of food and drink last year, and the country's two main cargo ports, Dublin and Cork, have seen a spike in that trade to meet demand driven by Covid-19.

Port of Cork Harbour Master and Chief Operations Officer, Paul O'Regan, can understand people's concerns that led to panic buying of food and other supplies over the past month, since the first case of coronavirus was confirmed here.

"My key message to people is not to worry about the supply chain," Paul O'Regan told RTÉ News. "The supply chain is moving, ports are open and ports are working very very hard in order to maintain the supply of goods and essential products to the people of Ireland."