Consumer sentiment weakened significantly in early March, a survey taken before the country took its first major measures to tackle coronavirus showed today. 

The KBC Bank consumer sentiment index fell to 77.3 in March, down from 85.2 in February. 

The survey was undertaken on March 3-10 before the Government closed schools and colleges on March 12 in a major escalation of the crisis. 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases had risen to 557 from 34 on March 10.

Authorities have so far received 58,000 applications for a new emergency welfare payment for employees and self-employed people who have lost their jobs or had hours cut as a result of restrictions to slow the spread. 

"Irish consumer sentiment weakened significantly in early March as nervousness about the impact of the coronavirus on health as well as on economic and financial prospects increased materially," said Austin Hughes, chief economist at KBC Bank Ireland.

"At this point it seems likely that the April sentiment reading will reflect a further marked increase in coronavirus related concerns," he said.