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Minister: People returning from Spain and Italy will have to restrict their movements

- Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke

The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has said that people coming back to Ireland from Spain and Italy will be asked to restrict their movements.

Mr Harris told RTE radio One's Morning Ireland that the Department of Foreign Affairs is advising people not to travel to Spain, except in exceptional circumstances - including the Balearic and Canary Islands.

A significant number of cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Spain. The highest incidences are in Madrid, Vitoria and Labastida in the Basque Country, Catalonia and the Rioja region.

"If you are in Spain, you should monitor developments regularly and follow the advice of local authorities. In what is an evolving situation, additional measures may be announced," said the Department.

Spain is the most popular tourist destination for Irish holidaymakers, with over two million Irish people flying there every year.

The Minister met the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) last night and and they decided between them on the advice.

He added that people should restrict their movements for two weeks, which includes not going to work, and they are being given information on what to do when they arrive at airports.

Anyone returning from Italy and Spain will be met by environmental health workers on their return at the airport and told to restrict their movements.

They will be asked "not quite to self isolate, but to restrict their movements."

Minister Harris has said that whatever support is necessary for the HSE to combat the spread of Covid-19 will be provided. “We can't stop the virus coming to Ireland but we can try to flatten the curve.”

Mr Harris told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland “we are more likely to get the virus through bad hygiene practice.” He urged people to take heed of the advice they have been given.

People will have to alter their behaviour and there is still a long way to go with dealing with the virus. “There is still a long way to go. There is a huge amount we are still learning.

The absolute reality is that this is something that could be with us for many months.

The country needs to keep functioning, he said. “This is not a storm that will go away in a few days.”

There is a suite of measures that can be implemented at the right time, he added.

There will be “no strong macho man” political response, “we will be following medical advice.”

“This is a marathon, not a sprint. We are asking people to live their lives a little bit differently.”