As the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Cork rose to 62, Health Minister Simon Harris said the number of people being tested each day in Ireland is set to reach 15,000.
He said the authorities would try to continue community testing and contact tracing for as long as was practical.
“I am really proud that we are continuing to do community testing, some countries have stopped it,” Mr Harris said.
“It will mean people in Ireland are going to have to wait a few days for a test. But why we are doing this is because the World Health Organisation said ‘test, test, test’ — the more of this virus we can find, isolate, and contact anyone who might have been in contact with it, the greater a chance you have of slowing down the spread and, if we can slow down the spread of this virus, we can save lives.
“We will reach a point, every country will reach a point, where you have to say you’ve got to slow down community testing, but we are nowhere near there and we want to keep going for as long as possible.”
Mr Harris said the projection of 15,000 people infected by the end of March was a worst-case scenario based on no mitigation measures being taken.
He said the public’s adherence to social distancing steps would have a direct impact on bringing that total down.
A woman in the east of the country has become the third person to die in Ireland after testing positive for Covid-19.
A total of 191 new cases were confirmed this evening, bringing the total number to 557. Dublin had 171 and Limerick 14.
The median age of people with Covid-19 in the Republic is 43 and Monaghan is now the only county not to have reported a case.
Tony Holohan, chief medical officer at the Department of Health, extended his condolences to the family and friends of the patient who died.
He said the virus is mainly being contracted by younger and middle-aged people — not the elderly.
“For the most part, this is a youngish profile of people with this infection. We know for the most part, this disease has milder and less severe symptoms in the younger cohort.”
He said the increased number of confirmed cases is partly down to the increased number of tests taking place in the last couple of days, adding it is too early to ascertain the impact of social distancing measures.
Commenting on the latest case increase, he said: “We are going to see an increase broadly speaking on that scale that we set out over the course of the week. On average, that might be something in the region of 30 to 40% increase.”
He said we will begin to see the impact of social distancing measures in the next two or three weeks.
“The cases we have seen diagnosed today and in the past 24 hours are cases where people would have been infected and exposed before we brought in the measures.
“As we move to the days further past the weekend, we will be watching the figures and as we pass the end of the month, we should see an impact of social distancing in two or three weeks.”
“We are already seeing in our everyday lives very significant changes in how society is operating and crowds are absent from the streets and from our schools and gatherings are not happening.
“I think we have seen high compliance when it comes to social distancing measures and the advice we have given.”
The Department of Health said 84 healthcare workers have been diagnosed with Covid-19 — with almost two-thirds of those cases not linked to foreign travel.