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Virus infection toll climbs to 169 with firefighter the latest frontline victim

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Shoppers wearing surgical face masks on Dublin’s Henry Street. Picture: Arthur Carron

Shoppers wearing surgical face masks on Dublin’s Henry Street. Picture: Arthur Carron

Shoppers wearing surgical face masks on Dublin’s Henry Street. Picture: Arthur Carron

Another 40 new cases of Covid-19 have been diagnosed in Ireland, the latest figures show.

Those diagnosed include 23 men and 17 women. There is now a total of 169 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Republic.

Some 25 cases are in the east of the country, nine are in the west and six victims are in the south. There have been two Covid-19 deaths in Ireland.

Meanwhile, Dublin Fire Brigade has confirmed one of their members has tested positive for the deadly virus.

DFB said they are attempting to get in touch with anyone who came into contact with the firefighter/paramedic before they tested positive for Covid-19.

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Members of the Garda Public Order Unit on patrol in Temple Bar yesterday amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19. Picture: Arthur Carron.

Members of the Garda Public Order Unit on patrol in Temple Bar yesterday amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19. Picture: Arthur Carron.

Members of the Garda Public Order Unit on patrol in Temple Bar yesterday amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19. Picture: Arthur Carron.

"The firefighter is under the medical care of the HSE and is doing well, we are respecting their privacy at this time and ask that others follow likewise," a statement said.

"We are currently working through Public Health to contact, trace and assess other members of staff who may have been close or casual contacts.

"We have set up a contact tracing hub and will continue to monitor, communicate and support all of our personnel providing an essential frontline service during these challenging times.

"We would like to express our gratitude and respect for all our personnel, and all frontline workers in all the agencies, who work diligently to serve the community in very difficult times, we wish them all well, good health and safe duties," a statement said.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan appealed to people not to organise St Patrick's Day parties tomorrow in their homes or other venues. "It will put lives at risk," he warned.

He said everyone is "asked to reduce their social contact over this time." House gatherings and so called 'Covid parties' carry the same risks as being in a pub or club.

The virus is now in our community, it is up to us to limit its spread. GPs are braced for a surge in calls from patients from today asking to be tested for the coronavirus.

The GPs will be able to directly refer a patient they risk-assess as suitable for a test.

Thousands of Irish citizens stranded in Spain are to be helped home by Thursday.

Spain has reported 2,000 new coronavirus cases and more than 150 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney spent yesterday in negotiations with the Spanish government, Aer Lingus and Ryanair to try find a way out for Irish people.

Flights

The Herald understands as many as 20,000 Irish people are in Spain at the moment. Some are holidaymakers while others are resident there.

A growing number of flights have been grounded in Spain due to preventative measures against coronavirus which have resulted in a reduction in the number of air traffic controllers on each shift.

All restaurants, bars, hotels, schools and universities, and other non-essential retail outlets, have been closed as part of a nationwide lockdown.

People can only leave their homes to buy food, to go to work if they cannot work remotely, to seek medical attention, or to assist the elderly.

Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair have struggled with flying to and from Spain over the weekend.

Ryanair had announced it would "severely reduce" flights to and from Spain, the Balearic Islands and Canary Islands until March 19.

However, the Herald understands CEO Michael O'Leary was directly involved in the talks with government yesterday about putting on special flights to get Irish people home between last night and Thursday.

"I understand the deep concern about returning home from mainland Spain or the Canary and Balearic Islands in the coming days," Mr Coveney said.

"We have been working closely with our colleagues in the Spanish government and have an orderly plan in place with Ryanair and Aer Lingus supported by the Spanish government.

"My Spanish Foreign Affairs and Transport counterparts have assured me that Spanish airports remain open and the country is not bringing about a flight ban.

Emergency

"They further assure me that Spanish airspace remains open for Irish airlines to bring citizens home."

Global travel is becoming increasingly difficult as the coronavirus emergency spreads. The Department of Foreign Affairs is advising against non-essential travel to the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Malta, Poland and Slovakia.

Italy is viewed as totally off-limits for Irish travellers.

People are being strongly advised against travel in Brazil, and in the wider Latin America and Caribbean region.

President Donald Trump has banned EU citizens, including Irish residents, from entering the United States.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty last night urged employers to continue to pay their staff where possible.

"Where employers, who have to cease trading because of the impact of social distancing and continue to pay workers, they will be able to claim refunds from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

"A temporary refund scheme is being established for this purpose.

"This refund will be for €203 per worker per week. This means workers retain their link with employers and there is no need for them personally to submit a job seekers claim."