Coronaviruses (or Coronoviridae) are a large family of viruses that can infect humans or animals. A small number of these cause very serious respiratory viruses in humans, but they also include a huge number of other viruses that are not harmful at all, or cause very mild symptoms. The common cold, for example, can be caused by one of many similar coronaviruses. Some coronaviruses are zoonotic which means that they originated in one species but then transferred to another. Many common human diseases are zoonotic, for example measles originated in cattle; swine flu from pigs.
The animal origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the current outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has not yet been confirmed. It may have originated in bats but reached humans through an intermediary animal such as pangolin. The exact means by which it jumped the species barrier to humans is also unconfirmed.
There have been no studies of coronaviruses in Irish bats, but a small number of coronaviruses have been found in some European bat species. However, no coronavirus zoonoses of this kind are known to have originated in Europe and the risk of a disease like this arising in Ireland or elsewhere in Europe is extremely low since bats are not consumed here or used for producing medicines.
Bats are protected by law throughout Europe, because populations have undergone severe declines due to habitat changes, roost loss and the increased use of pesticides. Bats provide hugely important ecosystem services to humans in the form of insect pest control. It is extremely important for us to protect and conserve the bat populations we have in Ireland since they are essential to our functioning ecosystem.
Further information on the public health element of the Corona Virus is available from the HSE website: https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/coronavirus.html and from the World Health Organisation (WHO) website: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019