Coronavirus outbreak in Ireland could become very serious, minister says

Ireland’s health minister has said the coronavirus outbreak in the country will become “very serious”, adding there is a moderate to high risk it could follow in similar ways as experienced in other European nations.

Simon Harris said it will require a whole of government and whole of society approach to deal with the escalation in coronavirus cases.

He said the country’s health service will not be found wanting in its resources to tackle the outbreak.

Later on Monday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will chair a new Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Covid-19.

Senior members of government and health experts are to discuss how to deal with the impact of the virus and consider strengthening employment protection laws and supports for people who have to self-isolate.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Speaking to RTE Morning Ireland, Mr Harris urged the public not to panic.

“I think that’s a really important message, I know a lot of people are worried,” Mr Harris said.

“Over 80% of us who will get this virus will get a mild illness, but for some of us we will get very sick.

“What we have to do as a government, and what we have to do as a society, is prepare, and particularly prepare to support vulnerable groups of older people and people with underlying health conditions.

“There’s things all of us can do as individuals in terms of trying to slow the spread of this virus because the best possible chance we have in terms of dealing with this virus is to slow its spread.

“That helps our health service, it helps our frontline stuff and it helps us all as individuals.”

He added: “There’s a moderate to high risk of this, according to the European experts, taking hold in a very serious way in Ireland (and) that would require a prioritisation of services.

“It would require for a period of time us focusing on the virus above and beyond other procedures in hospitals.”

He said the sub-committee will involve relevant government departments and state agencies.

Mr Harris said they will make a decision on Monday on reducing the number of waiting days for social welfare payments and supports for people who have been told to self-isolate by health authorities.

“One of the things we’ve been looking at across government is can you reduce that waiting period so people can get support more quickly, and that’s something we’ll be considering today,” Mr Harris said.

He also said they are opening more ICU beds to “around 300” and will speak to the country’s private hospitals.

“It’s quite likely that if you got to a situation where this virus outbreaks in a serious way, that many elective procedures in private hospitals could yet be cancelled so they may have capacity,” Mr Harris said.

“We will not be found wanting when it comes to providing any resources that are required and the Minister for Finance (Pascal Donohoe) has been clear in this.”

He said health experts are still considering whether or not St Patrick’s Day celebrations will go ahead.

He said that a decision will be made in the next 48 hours.

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