Leo Varadkar, the Irish premier, announced that all schools, universities and other public facilities will be closed and teaching will be done online or remotely.
He said restaurants and other businesses can stay open and public transport will continue to operate but urged citizens to “seek to reduce social interactions as much as possible."
The government recommended that indoor meetings of 100 people and outdoor of more than 500 be scrapped temporarily, while it also suggested closing museums and tourist sites.
“We have not witnessed a pandemic of this nature in living memory and this is uncharted territory for us,” Varadkar said from Washington, D.C.
“We said we would take the right actions at the right time and we have to move now to have the greatest impact.”
Varadkar was speaking from the U.S. capital because he was due to meet President Donald Trump as part of the annual St. Patrick’s Day program of events.
“Unfortunately we must face the tragic reality that some people will die," he said.
Simon Coveney, Varadkar’s deputy, said: “If we have a collective national response we will save potentially thousands of lives.”
Airports and ports will remain open for now.
The sweeping announcements came after Ireland recorded its first death from the coronavirus Wednesday, an elderly woman who died in a Dublin hospital.
Varadkar is set to meet Trump hours after the president announced a 30-day travel ban of countries from the European Union.
Ireland and the U.K., however, are not part of the ban because neither is part of the Schengen agreement of border-free travel.
Already, more than 17,000 cases of COVID-19 have been detected in Europe, with the virus having been found in all 27 EU countries.