TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has confirmed that schools, colleges, childcare facilities and other public facilities are to close and restrictions put in place on public gatherings in a bid to counter the coronavirus outbreak.
Speaking in Washington DC this morning, Mr Varadkar announced a major escalation in the Irish government’s efforts to counter the spread of the virus.
“I know that some of this is coming as a real shock and it’s going to involve big changes in the way we live our lives,” he said.
He said the Irish economy will suffer, but will bounce back.
All indoor mass gatherings of more than 100 people should be cancelled and all outdoor gatherings of 500 people or more should be cancelled.
Public transport will still operate and businesses can remain open, but where possible people should work from home and people should limit interactions as much as possible.
“Public transport will continue to operate, the shops will remain open, and we have plans to ensure that supply chains will not be interrupted. We need public and businesses to take a sensible level headed and responsible approach. during this difficult time,” Mr Varadkar said.
Mr Varadkar said there will be “many more cases, more people will get sick. Unfortunately, we must face the tragic reality that some people will die”.
He said: “The virus is all over the world. It will continue to spread but it can be slowed. Its impact can be reduced, making it easier for our health service to cope and giving our scientists more time to develop better testing, treatments and a vaccine.
Mr Varadkar said it was important to state that the effects will be mild for the majority of people, especially the young and healthy but that older people with chronic illnesses are at risk.
“We’ve not witnessed a pandemic of this nature in living memory and we’re in unchartered territory.”
Mr Varadkar was speaking ahead of a meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House later on Thursday. He did not take questions from the media.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney says the measures to tackle coronavirus are unprecedented but “absolutely necessary and justified”.
He said they’re to protect the most vulnerable and that the irony is that to “pull together as a country we are asking people to stay apart”.
Health Minister Simon Harris said the protective measures are proportionate and focused solely on protecting public health.
He said it is necessary to close all schools, crèches and universities from tomorrow. “If you can work from home you should do so”
The Mater said it regrets the impact that this will have on our patients “but these new arrangements are necessary in order to deal with the impact of Covid-19. Patients whose appointments are being deferred will be contacted by phone.
“Our staff across every part of the hospital are carrying out trojan work around the clock to deal with the virus, care for those infected and to protect and care for other patients in the hospital. The Mater Hospital is employing all infection control measures and every effort is being made to manage and control the spread of the virus.
“Visitor restrictions remain in place for public and patient safety. The only visitors who are allowed on campus are those who are visiting patients in critical care, vulnerable young adults, or those whose loved ones are receiving end of life care.
“No children are permitted to visit the hospital under any circumstances.
“We thank the public and our patients for their cooperation at this time.“
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said doctors are now being told to widen the net for testing to include more patients who have severe acute respiratory illness or who have been diagnosed with pneumonia either in hospital or in the community.
This comes as it was revealed today that two more of the 43 people diagnosed with the new coronavirus in the Republic are seriously ill and in intensive care.
It follows yesterday’s tragic death of an older woman who suffered from serious underlying illnesses and tested positive for the virus.
The frail patient who died is understood to have been treated in Naas General Hospital for some time before being tested as she had not been abroad and the source of her infection was unknown.
Dr Holohan extended his condolences to her family and he appealed to the public to follow health advice.
He said there has been a significant increase in coronavirus cases in Ireland in recent days.
He said there have been a number of intensive care unit admissions.
Mr Holohan has said that the measures taken will not prevent an increase in coronavirus cases, but are aimed at slowing them.
Mr Holohan said the aim of school closures is so that children don’t spread the virus to the elderly or people who are particularly vulnerable.
Some nineteen of the people who tested positive are hospitalised, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre revealed.
It is the first insight into the state of health of the victims of the virus here.
There are 15 cases in the south, 14 cases in the east, six in the mid-west, less than five in the south east and less than five in the north east.
There are six in cases the west and no cases in the midlands.
The figures were based on yesterday’s toll of cases and more news on more people testing positive is expected today.
Mr Holohan said there is a “clear recommendation” that indoor social gatherings of more than 100 people should be cancelled.
Asked about weddings he says the expectation would be that people don’t proceed with such events.
Business minister Heather Humphreys says she has spoken to retailers and there are no concerns over the supply chain.
On panic buying, Mr Holohan says stocking up “shouldn’t be necessary”.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs has updated its travel advice for Spain warning against all non-essential travel to Madrid, La Rioja and Vitoria and Labastida in the Basque country.
Around 2,300 people have been tested for the virus so far but this is now to dramatically rise as more labs in Cork, Waterford and Limerick take on work.
Hundreds of hospital appointments for patients in need of surgery or a specialist appointment continued to be cancelled yesterday.
St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin has issued an appeal to members of the public, such as retired nurses, who could provide support to come forward as the expected surge in patients suffering severe illness from the virus will put a strain on staff who may need to self-isolate.
The qualifications they are planning for include medical, nursing, auxiliary nurses, administrative staff, security and catering staff.
One of the biggest sporting organisations for children in the country has cancelled all training, competitions and friendly matches until further notice.
The Dublin and District Schoolboys League said the ban on activities, which will affect tens of thousands of primary and secondary school boys and girls in Dublin and surrounding counties, takes effect immediately.