Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has insisted the risk of contracting Covid-19 in Ireland remains low, despite the number of confirmed cases in the Republic of Ireland rising from zero to 18 in just under a week.
The National Public Health Emergency Team announced five new cases last night, all of whom are being treated in isolated units in hospitals.
Seven are in the western part of the country, seven in the east, and four now in the south - including a male with underlying health issues at Cork University Hospital.
One of the latest infections, a female in the south of the country, is a healthcare worker whose infection is associated with close contact with an already confirmed case.
This has highlighted concerns about the vulnerability of healthcare professionals on the front line in the fight against this virus.
The National Public Health Emergency Team has established a sub-group to identify and implement measures to protect frontline healthcare staff.
Dr Holohan appealed again to organisations, schools and healthcare providers, not to act unilaterally by closing or restricting access to services following the decision of the Nursing Homes Ireland to implement visitor restrictions nationwide.
Dr Holohan said 18 infections is a low number, and that the risk of infection in Ireland is still low.
He said the country needs to respond to the threat of Covid-19 in unison, and he appealed for people to follow the advice of Public Health.
Coronavirus - key points
- Information available on HSE website - www.hse.ie/coronavirus
- No cancellation of large gatherings 'at this stage'
- No elective surgeries, outpatient appointments at some hospitals
- Visiting restrictions at hospitals in many other parts of the country
- Five new cases confirmed in Republic last night, one more in North
- High-level talks on sick pay held at Govt Buildings
- Covid-19 case identified at Trinity College Dublin
- China's Hubei province, excluding Wuhan, reports zero new virus cases
A number of hospitals across the country have imposed a ban on visitors over the coronavirus while some hospitals are also cancelling elective surgeries and outpatient appointments.
Speaking at last night's briefing, Dr Holohan said that they can explain the transmission in all but one of the cases so far, and despite the rise in cases, Ireland remained in a containment phase.
He said the spread of the disease across Europe was following an expected pattern.
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Asked about potential bans on the export of face masks and other protective clothing, HSE Director of Acute Operations Liam Woods said the HSE has focused on building up stocks in recent weeks.
He said he felt there were appropriate stocks.
Dr Holohan added that they were not recommending the use of masks or gloves as part of "routine self-protection" for members of the public.
He said he did not believe masks have a role to play, unless directed by a doctor or medical professional.
A fourth case of the virus was also confirmed in Northern Ireland last night - bringing the total number of cases on the island of Ireland to 22.
The latest patient had recently travelled from Italy and is linked to a previously confirmed positive case.
Staff at the Public Health Agency are working to identify contacts the individual may have had.
NI Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: "Further positive cases have been expected and we anticipate the number will increase in the days and weeks ahead.