All outpatient appointments and elective surgery have been cancelled today, tomorrow and on Wednesday at all six hospitals in the University of Limerick Hospitals Group, as part of the response to the public health emergency around coronavirus.

The facilities in the group are: University Hospital Limerick at Dooradoyle, University Maternity Hospital, Croom Orthopaedic Hospital, St John's Hospital in Limerick city, Ennis and Nenagh hospitals.

A visiting ban is also in place at all hospitals since last Wednesday, when the emergency department at the University Hospital had to close for three hours for a deep clean in response to Covid-19 admissions to an isolation unit.

Seventy-five staff at the hospital have also been asked to stay at home.

So far, 21 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland, while in Northern Ireland five new cases have been reported, bringing the total there to 12.

More than 1,000 people have now been tested for the virus in the Republic.

Around 80% of cases of Covid-19 will be a mild to moderate illness, close to 14% have severe disease and around 6% are critical.

Generally, you need to be 15 minutes or more in the vicinity of an infected person, within 1-2 metres, to be considered at-risk or a close contact.

Several hundred people have been affected by the cancellations of outpatient and elective surgery appointments across the six hospitals. Management say those affected will have their appointments rescheduled at the earliest opportunities.

Those patients attending for chemotherapy, dialysis, and elective C-sections are not affected.

All patients whose appointments are going ahead have been contacted directly by staff.

Group Chief Executive Colette Cowan has said they sincerely regret having to reduce services across their sites, but patient safety is their highest priority and as part of a number of actions in that regard, it is necessary to reduce activity in the coming days and prioritise services for the sickest patients.

Visitor restrictions are in place at all of the Ireland East Hospital Group (IEHG) hospitals until further notice.

In a statement, the group said this is a precautionary measure in order to protect the safety of patients andstaff and to help prevent the spread of infection. 

Hospitals include: Wexford General Hospital, St Luke's General Hospital Carlow/Kilkenny, Regional Hospital Mullingar, Our Lady's Hospital Navan, National Orthopaedic Hospital Cappagh, National Maternity Hospital, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, St Michael's Hospital Dun Laoghaire, St Vincent's University Hospital, St Columcille's Hospital Loughlinstown, and Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital.

Read more: Coronavirus stories

Separately, management at both Sligo University Hospital and Letterkenny University Hospital have issued statements advising people that outpatient, X-ray and other scheduled appointments and procedures are going ahead as usual.

The statement follows another one issued on Friday by the Saolta Hospital Group advising of visiting restrictions at the hospitals introduced as an infection control measure.

Grainne McCann, Hospital Manager in Sligo, and Sean Murphy, Hospital Manager in Letterkenny, said that while visiting restrictions are in place, services at the hospital are not impacted and are running as normal.

They say that people should turn up to their appointments as usual and they do not need to call to check if their appointment is going ahead. Patients will be contacted by phone if there is a need to postpone their appointment.

In relation to visiting restrictions at the hospitals, the advice is that people do not come to visit patients on the wards or if people are attending appointments that they do not visit patients after their appointment.

The statement says: "The visiting restrictions continue apart from end of life situations and other exceptional cases for example, birthing partners for women in labour and parents of children in the NICU or Paediatric Ward."

Additional reporting Eileen Magnier