By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) – More than 60 staff at a hospital in the southern Irish city of Cork were asked on Friday to self-isolate after the country’s first community transmission of coronavirus was found there, a health official was quoted as saying.

Health authorities in Ireland reported the first case of the virus not associated with travel from an affected area of Italy on Thursday. The number of cases rose to 18 on Friday from 13 a day earlier.

The representative body for private and voluntary nursing homes also introduced nationwide visiting restrictions on Friday, saying the virus presented an unprecedented situation for older people and residents with medical conditions in care.

Nursing Homes Ireland barred non-essential visits and said children and groups would not be allowed into homes. Visitors should only seek to attend in urgent circumstances, it said in a statement, with management reserving the right to impose full restrictions where necessary.

Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan later urged organizations, schools and health service providers not to act unilaterally and told a news conference he considered it an “early stage” for the type of action nursing homes had taken.

The male patient who contracted coronavirus via community transmission is in the hospital in Cork, where his diagnosis was made a number of days after admission.

The Health Service Executive’s (HSE) National Director of Acute Operations, Liam Woods, was quoted by Irish national broadcaster RTE as saying more than 60 members of staff at Cork University Hospital (CUH) had been asked to self isolate following the identification of the case.

A spokeswoman for the HSE would not confirm Woods’ comments. Woods told RTE Radio contact tracing at the hospital had been completed.

One of the new cases, a female healthcare worker in the south of Ireland, contracted the virus through close contact with a confirmed case, Ireland’s health department said.

CUH was one of a number of Irish hospitals to impose visitor restrictions.

The British region of Northern Ireland, which shares an open border with the Irish republic, also confirmed its fourth case of coronavirus on Friday.

The government said on Friday that there is no reason yet to cancel any proposed mass gatherings including the St. Patrick’s Day Festival, which attracts 500,000 people, many of them tourists, to Dublin every year on March 17.

(Additional reporting by Conor Humphries in Dublin and Ian Graham in Belfast; Editing by Janet Lawrence)