As coronavirus clusters rise in Ireland, one infectious disease doctor says that the country needs greater protection of its borders.

As of March 31, a total of 24 coronavirus clusters were reported in nursing homes in the Republic, according to analysis from Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE).

Across the Republic, there are 25,000 older people being cared for in nursing homes.

According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), a cluster is three or more cases in an institution within a 72-hour period. New data from the HPSC shows that nursing home clusters account for about 20 percent of all clusters of the infection.

The figures were released after representatives of Nursing Home Ireland met Minister for Health Simon Harris on March 30 over their concerns in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.

The cluster figure, which relates to March 27, represents a dramatic increase in four nursing home clusters of the disease recorded just five days earlier.

The number of hospital cluster outbreaks also jumped over this period, from six to 21, while the number of outbreaks in private homes has more than doubled, from 10 to 24.

Clusters have also been identified in extended families, workplaces and residential institutions.

Read More: Coronavirus live updates: 14 deaths, 212 cases confirmed in Rep of Ireland

One of Ireland’s leading infectious diseases experts, Dr. Paddy Mallon, called on the government to consider protecting the country’s borders to prevent new coronavirus infections coming into the State.

Mallon, a consultant at St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin and professor of microbial diseases at UCD, said a major risk to the state was more new Covid-19 infections coming into the country.

 The Irish Times reported him as saying, “We have got our own outbreak in the country that we are trying to extinguish but the big threat is new infections coming in.

“We should be looking seriously over the next week at protecting our borders and stopping new infections coming in because it will give us the ability to control the infections that we have.”

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar signaled that he won’t be closing borders but said that additional restrictions could be applied to people traveling into Ireland from abroad.

Varadkar said, “We’re not going to close our borders. We need to enable our citizens to come home. They might be family or friends, they might also be health care workers who volunteer to come back and work in the health service.

“We need to import things like PPE from China. We need to be able to export medicines to other parts of the world that they need.

“But the National Public Health Emergency Team last week and this week will examine whether there are additional restrictions or controls that we could apply to people coming into the country that would reduce the risk of imported cases of coronavirus resulting in community transmission here.

“That has been examined at the moment and we should be able to do something the next couple of days.”

The latest world figures on Tuesday morning showed there were 799,741 confirmed coronavirus cases and 38,721 deaths.

Read More: Coronavirus: Irish gov trying to bring home 2,000 citizens stranded abroad

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