Visiting restrictions are being put in place at 22 hospitals and hundreds of nursing homes around the country amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.
Nursing Homes Ireland - which represents around 80% of private and voluntary nursing homes in the country - says there will be no non-essential visiting due to the "unprecedented challenges" posed by COVID-19.
Children or groups will not be allowed visit homes.
People are being advised to only visit residents in urgent circumstances, and they are being asked to contact the home before attending.
However, NHI says the management of homes will reserve the right to impose full restrictions if necessary.
In a statement, the organisation said: "We urge prospective visitors to nursing homes to be cognisant and understanding of the measure that is required in the interest of resident and staff safety.
"Older people and people in nursing homes with pre-existing medical conditions are particularly vulnerable if they contact the virus.
"The virus presents an unprecedented situation for our nursing homes and the care provided within them. Nursing homes are imposing the visitor restrictions in the best interests of residents and staff. "
Meanwhile, the Mater Hospital in Dublin is asking the public to not visit the hospital at this time.
Management said in a statement: "The only visitors who will be allowed on campus are those who are visiting patients in critical care, vulnerable young adults, psychiatric patients or those whose loved ones are receiving end of life care.
"No children are permitted to visit the hospital under any circumstances."
The hospital says all infection control measures are in place, with "every effort being made" to manage and control the spread of infection.
All appointments at the hospital are proceeding unless patients are informed otherwise.
The Republic currently has 13 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, after seven additional cases were confirmed by health officials yesterday evening.
University Hospital Limerick Group
Al elective surgeries and outpatient appointments at six hospitals in the Limerick area have been cancelled for next Monday and Tuesday.
The University Hospital Limerick Group (UHLG) said it had taken the decision interests of patient safety because of the coronavirus.
The affected hospitals are University Hospital Limerick, University Maternity Hospital Limerick, Ennis Hospital, Nenagh Hospital, St John’s Hospital and Croom Orthopaedic Hospital.
A visiting ban is also in place at all six hospitals.
In a statement, the group said it regrets any inconvenience or distress caused by the cancellation and promised to reschedule all appointments as soon as possible.
The hospital said it will contact any patient whose appointment is still going ahead.
ULHG chief Executive Colette Cowan said: “We sincerely regret having to reduce services across our sites in this fashion; however, patient safety is our highest priority.”
“As part of a number of actions in that regard, it is necessary to reduce activity in the coming days and prioritise services for our sickest patients.”
She said we are now entering a “challenging period for patients and their loved ones and for all of our staff.”
“Our staff have been preparing for this challenge for several weeks now and we are now putting those plans into effect,” she said.
“Members of the public can help by co-operating with the current visitor ban across all six hospitals; by attending our Emergency Department only where necessary; by ensuring they follow all the relevant public health advice from reputable sources and taking the simple precautions to protect themselves, their loved ones and our community at large.”
Cork University Hospital
Meanwhile, 60 staff at Cork University Hospital (CUH) have been asked to self-isolate after a case of the coronavirus at the hospital.
Yesterday a man who had been treated at CUH was confirmed to have Covid-19 in the first apparent case of community transmission in the Republic.
CUH has cancelled outpatient appointments today, but dialysis, chemotherapy, radiation treatments and infusions will proceed as planned.
The hospital has also introduced strict visiting restrictions as a precaution.
Anyone with any queries about visiting times or visiting a particular ward should ring the hospital on 021-4922000.
Saolta Group of Hospitals
This evening, seven hospitals in the west and northwest of the country said they were also restricting visitors as an infection control measure.
The affected hospitals are part of the Saolta group.
- University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital
- Portiuncula University Hospital
- Roscommon University Hospital
- Mayo University Hospital
- Sligo University Hospital
- Letterkenny University Hospital
A spokesperson for the group said it was asking people only to visit those facing “end of life situations.”
Other visits may be permitted in exceptional circumstances if agreed ahead of time with the ward manager.
“To arrange a visit, families should telephone the hospital and request to speak to the relevant ward manager who will decide if a visit can be facilitated without compromising the welfare of the patients on the ward,” said the spokesperson.
“Children in particular should not visit patients in hospital.
“We recognise that the visiting restrictions may be challenging for patients and their families, however, our priority must be to protect the patients in our hospitals who are vulnerable to infection.”
The group has thanked the public for its cooperation.
South/South West Hospital Group
The South/South West Hospital Group has now also implemented strict restrictions.
There are eight hospitals in the group.
- Cork University Hospital
- Cork University Maternity Hospital
- University Hospital Kerry
- University Hospital Waterford
- South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital
- Mercy University Hospital
- Bantry General Hospital
- Mallow General Hospital
The group said the restrictions are in the interest of patient care and to limit the spread of the virus.
Anyone with any questions about visitation should contact the hospital directly.
The group is also urging people to explore all other options before presenting at Emergency Departments if their needs are not urgent.
The HSE is urging anyone who has been to one of seven coronavirus-affected areas in the past two weeks and is experiencing symptoms of the virus to phone their local GP or Emergency Department without delay.
The symptoms are a cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, fever (high temperature).
If you are feeling well, you are advised to carry on with your normal routine.
People are urged to contact the HSE on 1850 24 1850 if they think they have been in contact with a coronavirus patient or if they were at a healthcare facility in another country where coronavirus patients are being treated.
Health officials say there is no need for masks or gloves.
The best way to protect yourself from the virus is to:
- Wash your hands properly and often
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough and sneeze
- Put used tissues into a bin and wash your hands
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- Avoid close contact with people who are not well.
Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.