Person died on Wednesday in east where they were being treated
A dummy COVID-19 swab is handled inside a sealed sterile tube during a demonstration by lab technicians.
It is understood the patient initally presented with respiratory symptoms and was later diagnosed with the disease when staff decided to perform a test.
The criteria for testing patients has been broadened this week to include those patients who have clinical respiratory symptoms but no history of travel to affected areas internationally. This is in recognition that the disease may be circulating in the community. The patient is understood to be elderly.
The first Covid-19 cases was recorded in the Republic on February 29th and there are now a total of 34 confirmed cases. Two of these were acquired in the community and are being investigated.
A further update on this death, and the latest number of cases, will be given by the National Public Health Emergency Teams at its daily briefing this evening.
Meanwhile the Department of Health in Northern Ireland has confirmed two new positive tests for coronavirus bringing the total number of cases in the North to 18.
The department in a statement on Wednesday afternoon said that both cases were adults and both were secondary transmissions that can be traced to a previously reported case that involved recent travel to Northern Italy. The North’s Public Health Agency is currently undertaking contact tracing for both cases. In Northern Ireland there have been 246 concluded tests, of which 228 were negative, and 18 were positive.
Earlier on Wednesday a leading World Health Organisation (WHO) official expressed concern about the attitude of young people to the coronavirus.
Dr Margaret Anne Harris also advised the organisers of major events to take all precautions to protect people from the virus, also known as Covid-19.
Dr Harris said she had heard “some concerning things” about the attitude of young people who seemed to think that the virus “will just hit old people.” She pointed out that in Italy young people are getting ill.
“I don’t think it is just age related. This is something that we all have to take seriously,” she told RTÉ Radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.
Asked about the wisdom of the Cheltenham racing festival being allowed to go ahead, Dr Harris replied: “We are saying to organisations ‘you do the risk assessment.’ They must take all the precautions necessary to protect people.”
She was speaking as University Hospital Waterford confirmed another case of Covid-19 in the State – a patient who tested positive and has since been moved into isolation.
Hospital management said the patient had been an inpatient in a medical ward as they had “not met the case definition” for Covid-19 at the time.
The case is expected to be included in the next briefing from the Department of Health on Wednesday evening.
Public health doctors said on Tuesday evening there was no need to close schools due to the outbreak “at this point in time”.
The National Public Health Emergency Team also advised nursing homes and some hospitals to lift blanket visiting bans, and it described measures recommended by undertakers, including the immediate cremation in bodybags of deceased people who had Covid-19, as “unnecessary”.
The emergency team announced plans for a massive increase in testing for coronavirus, with hospital laboratories in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford set to start testing for the illness.
These will back up the National Virus Reference Laboratory at University College Dublin and mean that thousands of cases a week can be processed in future. The number of suspected cases tested last week increased to 1,784, up from 297 a week earlier.
The type of patients tested is also being expanded to include some who have unexplained respiratory symptoms but no history of travel to affected areas.
Impact on residents
Under new rules, people with Covid-19 “who are clinically appropriate” can remain in their homes in self-isolation rather than in hospital. This change is subject to new criteria for their discharge, due to be announced later this week.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said blanket restrictions on visiting at private nursing homes and some hospitals, aimed at curbing the risk of infection, should be lifted.
Speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday night, Dr Holohan said visitor restrictions had a major impact on residents, for whom social interaction was a key part of wellbeing.
While restrictions might be necessary in a particular nursing home depending on circumstances, he said there was no case for across-the-board restrictions.
“We want to avoid introducing measures before they are really necessary,” he said.
Trinity College Dublin on Tuesday announced that it was cancelling all lectures. Asked whether schools would follow suit to curb the spread of the virus, Dr Holohan said such a measure could be deployed “at some point in time” depending on what happened “but that time is not necessarily now”.
Dr John Cuddihy, director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said detailed guidelines on the handling of deceased people who had Covid-19 would be published on Wednesday and will make clear that the measures proposed by the Irish Association of Funeral Directors are not necessary.
Despite the increase of 10 in new cases – six males and four females – none involved community transmission, the type that is of most concern to public health doctors. Five of the new diagnoses relate to travel from an affected area, two relate to hospital transmission or possible hospital transmission, and three are associated with close contact with a confirmed case.
Five of the latest cases were in the south of the country, three in the east and two in the west.
Dr Holohan said 98 per cent of all suspected cases in Ireland have tested negative. “While Ireland remains in containment phase, there is no room for complacency.”
Across the world more than 118,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed and more than 4,200 have died as a result.
Public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally said the coronavirus “will not recognise the border” and said that this is the time for integration of services north and south.
“There need to be substantial cross border cooperation, sharing of resources, harmonisation,” he told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.
“No health system in the world could cope with a full blown outbreak of the virus.”
The public health system in the Republic is “not that strong” he said, based on his experience of examining the cervical cancer service. However, he said, the level of awareness and guidelines to date seem to be “entirely appropriate”.
“It is really, really important that background planning goes on and that changes are being made in the hospital service and preparations are being made in the hospital service and also preparations right across the country when the situation changes.”