Ireland records highest daily coronavirus toll with 14 deaths
Ireland has recorded its highest daily death toll in the coronavirus outbreak, with 14 people having lost their lives in 24 hours.
The deaths, all in the east of the country, bring the total number of victims in the state to 36.
Another 294 cases of coronavirus were reported on Saturday, bringing to 2,415 the number of confirmed cases in Ireland. The median age of the 14 people who died was 81.
The deaths were announced on the first day of a major clampdown on movement in Ireland.
The restrictions were ordered by the Government amid fears that critical care hospitals will soon be overwhelmed by cases.
People have been ordered to remain in their homes in all but a limited set of specific circumstances until Sunday April 12.
One of the largest mobilisations in the history of the Garda is under way to ensure compliance with the lockdown, with 2,500 gardai on duty across the country.
On Saturday evening, Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “Today, we have our highest recorded number of deaths so far.
“Our condolences are with the family and friends of all patients who have died as a result of Covid-19.
“We thank all citizens who have complied with restrictive measures, who continue to follow public health advice and remain concerned for those around them.
“We must remain focused in our shared efforts to prevent the spread of this infection, to prevent severe illness especially that which requires ICU admission and ultimately save lives.”
There were reports of panic buying in supermarkets on Saturday as the two-week period of restrictions started.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar urged people not to stockpile, insisting food supplies were not going to be impacted by the measures.
People are allowed to leave home for travel to or from work deemed to be essential, food shopping, medical appointments, brief exercise, farming activity and vital family reasons.
Those who leave their homes for exercise are required to stay within a 2km radius. They can travel outside 2km for shopping or to collect medicines.
All people over the age of 70, and other people considered vulnerable to the disease, have been told to “cocoon” for the two-week period and not leave home at all.
Local authorities are to establish hubs to ensure those people confined to their homes are properly supported, with food deliveries and transport to medical appointments.
Non-essential surgery, health procedures and other non-essential health services are being postponed as part of the new measures.
All public and private gatherings of any number of people outside a single household or living unit are prohibited and social visits to relatives beyond the family unit at home are not allowed.
The Government published a list of what it considers to be 16 essential categories of services on Saturday night, so employers and employees could determine if they can continue to travel to work.
Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein had both criticised the authorities for not making the list public when the restrictions were announced on Friday night, claiming the delay had created confusion.
A senior official at the Department of the Taoiseach said “a lot of work and consideration” had gone into drawing up the list.
Liz Canavan, assistant secretary at the department, highlighted that companies that were providing essential services to other parts of the world were included.
“The Government recognises that many companies in Ireland are critical to global supply chains that are responding to the Covid-19 crisis and many companies also perform critical global roles in many other aspects of medicine, as well as security, cyber, cloud data centre infrastructure,” she said.
“It is intended that these essential global roles are encompassed within these national guidance.”
She advised all essential workers to carry ID or a letter from their employers when travelling to or from their workplace.
On panic buying, Ms Canavan said: “There’s a lot of images doing the rounds online today of people panic buying. The Taoiseach has assured us there’s no need to stockpile or bulk buy. Food stores and takeaways will remain open in the emergency.”
The Taoiseach tweeted on Saturday morning: “No need to do all shopping or stockpile this morning. Food stores and takeaways staying open in the emergency. The 2km is about exercising locally. You can go beyond the 2km to buy food and medicines. The supplies are good. We all have a part to play in rising to this challenge.”
As well as the pressure on intensive care beds, health chiefs are concerned that more than 50% of confirmed cases in Ireland involve community transmission and that clusters are developing in places such as nursing homes and residential care settings.
Health minister Simon Harris said the latest restrictions on public life will not be sustainable for a long period.
Mr Harris expressed hope there could be some relaxation of the measures after an initial two-week period of enforcement, but he warned that life will not be returning to normal in the short term.
The minister said admissions to intensive care units are expected to rise significantly over the next week with people already infected with Covid-19. But he expressed hope the new measures could start to slow admission rates.
He told RTE Radio One: “Will we be in a position on the 12th of April where life in Ireland will return to normal? Absolutely not and let’s be honest with each other.
“And these are measures that we’re going to need to continue to work on. Do we hope to be in a position in two weeks’ time to say that we’ve made progress and some of the measures can be tweaked, removed, changed? Absolutely.
“The measures that we put in place last night are so significant that they cannot be kept in place for too long. You cannot ask people to sustain this for a very long period. That’s why we are really asking people to double down now for the next two weeks, it’s going to be tough.”