Irish citizens should not travel to any part of Italy "in light of internal developments" in that country, Tánaiste and Minster for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, has said.
Prior to this, Irish people were being advised to avoid certain parts of northern Italy, which have been badly affected by COVID-19 (coronavirus).
The Italian government had announced that people in these areas were to be quarantined until April 3, with citizens being told to stay at home and avoid all non-essential travel.
However, this was then extended to the entire country, leaving a population of around 60 million people in virtual lockdown. Travel is only allowed for "urgent, verifiable work situations and emergencies or health reasons".
In light of this, Minister Coveney said that the Government has changed its advice in relation to travel to Italy. He said it is an unprecedented move to advise Irish citizens to completely avoid another EU country, however it is necessary.
Meanwhile, there are now 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Republic, after 10 new cases were reported on Tuesday - six men and four women. Five of these cases are in the south of the country, three in the east and two in the west. All are associated with hospital transmission, close contact with a confirmed case or travel from an affected area.
Announcing a €3 billion aid package to deal with the illness on Monday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar referred to it as "a global and national emergency".
"There is a lot about this virus that we do not know, but it is possible that we are facing events that are unprecedented in modern times. What we have seen from other countries is that we could easily have 50 or 60% of the population contracting COVID-19," he commented.
However, he emphasised that for the vast majority of people who do contract it, it will be "a mild illness". However for some, it will be severe and the mortality rate is still unknown, with current estimates ranging from below 1% to 3-4%.
As a result of the virus, St Patrick's Day parades have been cancelled nationwide.
According to the Department of Health's chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, while Ireland remains in containtment phase, "we will eventually move to delay phase and then on to mitigation phase"
"Containment is about identifying and containing all cases no matter how mild. The delay phase will focus on minimising the spread of the virus. Ultimately, in mitigation phase, we prioritise the cases that are most unwell.
"The decision to move to delay phase will be based on a number of factors, including the amount of confirmed cases in Ireland, speed at which they are occurring and the profile of transmission," he explained.
He added that ultimately, all of the decisions being taken "are focused on limiting the impact of this disease on our population and our health service".
Deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, acknowledged that older people in particular may be concerned about this.
"To ensure they have access to the information they need, ALONE has established an information helpline at 0818 222 024.
"This is a time for solidarity and community. We urge everyone to reach out to older family and friends, to ensure they have the appropriate advice and information," he said.
According to ALONE chief executive, Sean Moynihan, the support line can provide information and support to older people who may have concerns or support needs.
"We are ramping up our response to COVID-19 to provide support to all older people nationwide, working in collaboration with the Department of Health and the HSE.
"As the situation develops, as well as advice, information and emotional supports, we will ensure every older person will have access to food, medication, fuel, daily contact, and any other support that may be needed. We want to emphasise that these supports are free, and available to all older people, including those who have not previously used our services," Mr Moynihan noted.
Covid-19 is spread through close contact with an infected person's body fluids (e.g. droplets from coughing or sneezing), or by touching surfaces that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on.
It can take up to 14 days for symptoms of the virus to show. These may include a cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties and fever (high temperature).
COVID-19 can also cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia and severe breathing difficulties.
Everyone is asked to follow public health advice, including the following protective measures:
-Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
-Maintain at least one metre (three feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing/sneezing
-Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
-Practice cough and sneeze hygiene - covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough/sneeze. Then dispose of the tissue immediately.
Anyone who has been to an affected region (mainland China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Iran and northern Italy) in the last 14 days AND is experiencing symptoms, should self-isolate and call their GP.
Anyone who has been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days AND is experiencing symptoms should immediately self-isolate and call their GP.
For more information on COVID-19, click here or here.
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