The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised that people over 60, or with underlying respiratory or cardiac health conditions, avoid crowded places in an effort to reduce the chance of them catching COVID-19, or coronavirus.
The virus that started in the Wuhan region of China is spreading rapidly around the world with Northern Italy also identified as a source of infection.
John Hopkins University in the US, which is tracking confirmed and suspected cases of the virus around the world, say it has identified more than 89,000 cases in 59 countries resulting in more than 3,000 deaths.
Here in the UK at least 40 cases had been confirmed by the start of this week.
To date, Iran has the highest COVID-19 death toll in the world after China – the reported source of the outbreak – with 1,501 confirmed cases and 66 deaths.
In Italy, where there are at least 1,694 confirmed cases, 34 people have died including five on Sunday.
Large sporting events such as Ireland’s Six Nations rugby match against Italy have either already been postponed or are under question.
The biggest of these is next week’s Cheltenham Festival which attracts more than 260,000 racegoers from all over the world – especially Ireland – over its four days.
Organisers say that, as things stand, the event is scheduled to go ahead despite two confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Gloucestershire.
A spokesperson for the racecourse said on Monday that there had been no change to its original statement that it “remains full speed ahead for The Festival.
“Racing continues to liaise closely with government to stay on top of the situation and we are looking forward to four fantastic days of racing at Cheltenham.”
Since then Public Health England’s Medical Director Professor Paul Cosford said widespread transmission of the disease in England is “highly likely”.
Professor Cosford said the extent of infection in other countries suggested the UK needed to prepare for more widespread infection.
His warning came as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU had raised the risk of a major outbreak from “moderate” to “high” as the number of people infected across Europe rose to 2,199.
Ms von der Leyen told a press conference: “The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has announced today that the risk level has risen from moderate to high for people in the European Union. In other words, the virus continues to spread.”
In Ireland, Scoil Chaitriona in Glasnevin, Dublin, will remain closed until at least 16 March after one of its pupils became the first person in Ireland to be diagnosed with the virus. He contracted the virus after visiting one of the affected regions in Italy.
The diagnosis came just two days after a woman in Northern Ireland was the first person on the island of Ireland to be diagnosed with the virus. She had travelled from Dublin to Belfast by train after flying in from Italy.
Despite this, the Chief Medical Officer at Ireland’s Department of Health, Dr Tony Holohan, said the risk of the Covid-19 infection spreading in Ireland is “low”.
He said sports clubs reported to have cancelled training and games had not needed to do so, such steps were “simply not necessary”, and had no basis in fact.
He said there are, as yet, no implications for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
But he admitted events are fast changing and could not predict what might happen over the next ten days.
A question mark hangs over the scheduled Six Nations games between England and Italy, in Rome, and between France and Ireland, in Paris, following the cancellation of Ireland’s fixture with Italy.
On Monday, organisers said that all remaining matches of the 2020 Championship will go ahead as planned – unless governments order them to call the fixtures off.
The Irish side is due to travel to Paris to play France – which is chasing a Grand Slam – in their final game on St Patrick’s weekend (14 March).
England is due to play Italy in Rome.
The organisers released a statement late on Monday: “The Six Nations met today in Paris to address the current situation regarding the Covid-19 Virus.
“Six Nations and its six unions and federations are following the situation very closely with their respective governments and relevant health authorities and will strictly follow any directive given that would impact sporting events.
“As it stands today, based on the latest information, all Six Nations matches currently scheduled are set to go ahead.
“Six Nations is in contact with FIR and RFU regarding the possibility of relocating the Women’s and U20 Italy vs England matches to another Italian location and we will make a further announcement on this in due course.
“However, the Italy vs England Senior Men’s match in Rome is planned to go ahead as scheduled.
“Six Nations intends to complete all 15 games across all three championships when time allows.
“We will refrain from making any rescheduling announcements for the time being while we keep assessing the situation.”
In France a number of race meetings were ordered to go ahead “behind closed doors” to minimise the risk of spreading infection.
In Italy last weekend’s Serie A football matches were also played behind “closed doors”.
Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix, on 19 April, has already been cancelled.
Bookmakers Paddy Power is taking bets that this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo opening ceremony scheduled for 24 July will be postponed, cancelled or moved.
Bets are also being placed that next week’s first day of the Cheltenham Festival will not go ahead as planned.
This is despite the fact that Cheltenham and the British Horseracing Authority said it saw no reason to “develop a policy regarding abandonment of any specific fixtures due to coronavirus at this time”.
In 2001 the then three-day festival did not go ahead because of the nationwide foot and mouth crisis, at a £100m cost to the betting industry and a £10m hit to local tourism.
The bible of the horseracing industry, The Racing Post, says Cheltenham brings bookmakers £450-£500 million in turnover and around £50 million in profit.
There is an option that the races go ahead “behind closed doors” or defer races to a later date, possibly next month.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
The most common sign that a person may be infected with coronavirus is breathing problems.
Coronaviruses are respiratory diseases and spread when an infected patient coughs or sneezes, spraying small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth.
It attacks two specific sets of cells in the lungs, a goblet cell and a ciliated cell.
The goblet cell produces mucus on the respiratory tract, to keep lungs moist.
Ciliated cells have hairs on them that wave in an upward direction to trap bacteria viruses, or particles of dust, in the mucus sweeping them up to the throat.
Scientists and clinicians say COVID-19 appears to single those cells out for infection similar to Severe Acute Respiratory System (SARS) in 2002-2003.
SARS also originated in China, killing 774 people – significantly fewer than the almost 3,000 killed to date by COVID-19.
Tissue falls into the lungs, causing blockages and, potentially, pneumonia. Meanwhile, the immune system goes into overdrive damaging healthy tissue and making breathing even more difficult.
Other organs, such as the kidneys, can also be damaged.