By Ned Simons
Irish premier Leo Varadkar has announced that all schools, colleges and childcare facilities in Ireland will close until March 29 as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The new measures will come into force at 6pm on Thursday until March 29.
On Wednesday an elderly woman became the first person diagnosed with coronavirus in Ireland to die.
Varadkar said indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor meetings of more than 500 people should be cancelled.
Teaching will be done online or remotely. State-run “cultural institutions” will close.
Anyone entering Ireland will be informed of the measures and asked to self-isolate if they are displaying symptoms, the Irish premier added.
Working from home will be encouraged but where people do congregate in offices break times should be “staggered”.
Meetings should be done remotely but restaurants, cafes and other businesses can stay open.
Varadkar said: “People should seek to reduce social interactions as much as possible.”
It comes as Boris Johnson is expected to accept that the coronavirus outbreak can no longer be contained in the UK, signalling the start of the next phase in the battle against Covid-19.
The prime minister will chair a Cobra meeting at lunchtime where ministers are expected to agree to move into the “delay” stage of the process.
Moving to delay would mean social distancing measures could be brought in, such as restricting public gatherings and issuing more widespread advice to stay at home.
The expected shift in UK policy comes as Donald Trump dramatically escalated the US response to the coronavirus pandemic, slapping a travel ban on continental Europe.
The suspension of travel between the United States and Europe – excluding the UK and Ireland – will last for 30 days starting on Friday.
Trump made the announcement in an Oval Office address to the nation, blaming the European Union for not acting quickly enough to address the outbreak of the virus and saying US clusters were “seeded” by European travellers.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak played down the prospect of the UK imposing similar travel restrictions, but acknowledged the US decision could have a knock-on effect on the British economy.