Irish people have been urged not to stockpile groceries, as Government preparations for a hard Brexit mean supply chains will not be disrupted, the business minister has said.
It comes as Ireland’s schools, colleges, childcare facilities, museums and other tourist attractions closed on Friday in a major lockdown aimed at thwarting the virus’ spread and guided by European and scientific experts.
Attendance at funeral services and masses will be limited to close relatives and must not exceed 100 attendees within the church building.
Church weddings and baptisms may go ahead if attendance in church does not exceed 100 people.
Northern Ireland’s schools and colleges will not close at this stage, however Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has said schools must close now.
She said the public was “really concerned” by the different approaches to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Heather Humphreys reiterated her call for the public to stop stockpiling, saying it could be disruptive and have an impact on the most vulnerable in society.
Speaking at a Government press briefing on Covid-19 on Friday, Ms Humphreys said she held a meeting on Friday with major retailers on handling the Covid-19 outbreak.
“They remain confident that we have sufficient supply to meet demand. I want to be very clear – people do not need to stockpile. Supermarkets and shops will remain open. Stockpiling will cause problems so please don’t do it.
“In fact we have never been in a stronger position to deal with this, due to our preparations for a hard Brexit.”
“If people go out and buy products that they don’t need and they stockpile them, then they are going to cause a problem and that is going to have a negative impact on others, including vulnerable people.”
Meanwhile, Irish police are maximising numbers in preparation for the potential impact of coronavirus.
Senior gardai are being asked to delay their retirement while hundreds of Garda students will next week be attested.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the force is making sure it has enough numbers to “cope with whatever situation we may see in the future”.
A number of measures have been announced, including a contingency roster which will go into effect from Monday, while annual leave will be restricted to no more than 5% of a divisional workforce at any given time with effect from Friday.
Around 325 Garda students will be attested next week and deployed, Garda members working as tutors in the Garda college will be deployed to operational duties, training at the Garda college will be deferred and gardai due to retire have been asked to defer for three months.
Additionally, the force has hired 210 additional vehicles and non-essential travel will not be taken.
Mr Harris said the force is being “prudent” and “equipping our staff with measures in place to make sure that we can continue to protect society”.
Taking questions from the media at Garda headquarters in Dublin, Commissioner Harris refused to speculate on how many of his staff might be affected by Covid-19.
“We are in uncharted waters and so it would be wrong for me to speculate,” he said.
“What we have to do is maximise our resources, now if we have a self isolation-type scenario, we need to get those individuals tested, back to the front line if they can come back as quickly as possible.”
Commissioner Harris said while gardai have been seen at supermarkets, he stressed there is currently no fear of food shortages or of looting.
“People need to remain calm about the food supply and therefore then the fear of looting should not arise,” he said.
“We have had no looting incidents yet, no sign of looting incidents, people have been calm, well-mannered in terms of their shopping.
“We are there but that’s primarily to provide reassurance and to help with traffic flow, not that we have a fear of an outbreak of disorder or indeed looting.
“If we see an outbreak of criminality, if we see organised crime groups trying to exploit the situation, obviously we will be acting from an enforcement basis.”
Mr Harris added: “We do have concerns, we have seen it in other jurisdictions where fraudsters, organised crime groups, have engaged in fraud, engaged in criminal activity based on the fears that they are exploiting in society, we are very alive to that, we want to make sure we are being proactive in combating organised crime groups and others who would seek to criminally exploit this situation as well.
“We are here to protect people, provide a policing service but also provide community support.”
Defence Forces Chief of Staff Mark Mellett said the army will go on “yellow alert” next week to free up people to help efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Mellett said 80 army cadets have been drafted in to free up doctors and healthcare workers in order to help with contact tracing.
He said the army could also provide transport, medical technicians and beds if necessary.
Twenty new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland bringing the total number to 90.
– Six cases are associated with travel.
– 12 are associated with contacts of a confirmed case, four of which are healthcare workers.
– Two cases are associated with community transmission.