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Next seven days vital as virus toll may surge to 15k in just two weeks

  • Croke Park to open for testing as 54 new cases are confirmed

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A man takes a stroll through a locked-up Temple Bar

A man takes a stroll through a locked-up Temple Bar

REUTERS

A man takes a stroll through a locked-up Temple Bar

Cancer patients are having their surgery postponed in a major treating hospital as it was revealed 15,000 people may be infected with the new coronavirus in just two weeks.

The impact of the coronavirus crisis on patients who have serious illness came as St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin confirmed specialists are having to review their patients based on clinical need and "some surgeries are being rearranged for the coming weeks."

It was confirmed last night that there are 54 new cases of the deadly virus, bringing the total number of people diagnosed with Covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland so far to 223.

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said the next seven days are crucial in curbing the spread.

Threat

"The behaviours we adopt in the next seven days will form the template for how we interrupt the spread of this virus over the coming months," he said.

"We need to sustain social distancing, respiratory hygiene and these new ways of behaving if we are to succeed in minimising the threat posed by COVID-19."

The ongoing devastating fallout for the nation followed an admission by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that the number of new people infected by the virus will jump by 30pc a day and it could reach 15,000 by the end of the month.

"Most people will be well and be treated at home and its important they stay at home. But a percentage will need to be hospitalised and a smaller proportion again may need critical care," he said.

He was speaking after a meeting of the Cabinet sub committee overseeing the crisis and the launch of a plan outlining how the Government intends to tackle the health, economic and social effects.

The virus cannot be stopped and it is likely to be weeks before the restrictive measures endured by the population will see cases plateau.

"We have hundreds of ventilators, hundreds more have been secured. But we cannot say at this stage whether the number of people who need to be ventilated will match the number of ventilators we have," the Taoiseach said.

Projections that half of the population may get the virus may materialise but it is important for people to know this would be spread out over months.

It was decided not to call for the closure of cafes and restaurants but he emphasised they need to impose social distancing between customers.

Research commissioned by the Department of Health shows more than three quarters of people are staying at home more often.

And nearly one in two has started working from home.

Mr Varadkar admitted that there may be 100,000 who will lose their jobs and he pledged social welfare supports for employees and employers .

Health Minister Simon Harris said a massive recruitment campaign for people with health-related skills will be launched today and the message will be: "Your country needs you."

It came as it emerged Croke Park is set to be used as a 'drive-thru' testing site for individuals suspected to have contracted Covid-19.

Authorities are looking for ways to help them keep pace with the escalating crisis and reduce risk for health care professionals.

It's believed the tunnel in the stadium, which runs from the Hill 16 end of the Hogan Stand and around to the Cusack Stand on the opposite side, provides a suitable venue for such testing.

Testing

While the details of the plan have yet to be fleshed out, it's understood that individuals requiring testing could drive through the stadium and be tested without leaving their car.

The service will be available by appointment only and no walk-ups will be accepted.

Like many sporting organisations, the GAA has suspended all games and collective training sessions have been suspended until March 29 at the earliest with the organisation's top brass open to using the stadium in this way in the national interest.

Residents around Croke Park welcomed the news that the stadium was to be used for Covid 19 testing, according to local Councillor and former Lord Mayor Nial Ring.

"The overwhelming reaction was that local residents are very pleased, indeed proud, that this local facility can be used to help those who may have contracted the virus and we are proud that the GAA offered the facilities to the HSE" said Cllr Ring.

Meanwhile, Tanaiste Simon Coveney confirmed that Irish people are being urged not to undertake non-essential travel to Europe until March 29 - including to England.

Northern Ireland is excluded from this recommendation.

However, key supply chains to maintain the traffic goods will continue between the Republic and the rest of Europe.

Mr Coveney also warned there will be "enormous disruption" to air travel in the coming days across Europe and said he could not guarantee when people would be able to return home.

"Non-essential travel effectively means people who are choosing to go overseas and don't need to, they shouldn't be doing it.

"That is now our clear health advice and also travel advice," he said. "We can't be sure they can get back."

Mr Coveney also said he has been told by airlines across Europe that they will be grounding their fleets in the coming days.

"We are also seeing other EU countries closing borders, closing airports and not facilitating air transport in and out," he said. "Non-essential travel shouldn't be happening to and from this island."

The Tanaiste said the Government will ensure "key supply chains" which bring goods into Ireland will be maintained.

"Those supply chains are important and we need to maintain them and we regard that as essential travel," he said.