Schools and nurseries to close as Ireland steps up response to coronavirus

Schools, colleges and childcare centres in Ireland are to close for two weeks in an unprecedented lockdown sparked by the outbreak of coronavirus.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also said large indoor and outdoor gatherings should be cancelled, while the country’s Army is ready to respond to requests for emergency help.

Home working is encouraged and socialising should be limited, official advice said.

It adds that break times in workplaces must be staggered to reduce the infection’s spread and meetings should be held remotely.

Government plans aim to ensure the food supply chain remains uninterrupted and shops are to stay open.

Restaurants, cafes and other businesses can continue trading but should look at ways to implement public health advice recommending social distancing.

Mr Varadkar said: “We have not witnessed a pandemic of this nature in living memory. This is unchartered territory.”

Ireland recorded its first death from Covid-19 this week involving an elderly woman being treated in a Dublin hospital.

By Wednesday night, the country had 43 cases.

Cultural institutions like museums and tourist sites will close in an effort to limit spread of the virus.

All indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor events involving more than 500 should be cancelled, the Government said.

Arrangements are being made to ensure everyone entering Ireland through ports and airports is fully informed and self-isolates if they develop symptoms.

Mr Varadkar said: “Together we can slow the virus in its tracks and push it back.

“Acting together, as one nation, we can save many lives.”

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

He currently leads a caretaker Government following last month’s inconclusive election, and political meetings aimed at forming a new administration have been paused due to the emergency.

Mr Varadkar addressed the nation from Washington DC, where he is meeting US President Donald Trump, as he took swift action following updated advice from medics on Wednesday.

Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed the country has entered the delay phase of its response to the virus.

That means the infection is being transmitted between members of the community rather than limited to those who have been to Italy or other blighted regions or their close contacts.

The drastic steps aim to reduce the peak impact of the virus and slow its spread, relieving pressure on the health system.

Mr Varadkar said many more people in Ireland would fall ill with the infection.

And he added: “Unfortunately we must face the tragic reality that some people will die.

Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the measures during a live address to the nation from Washington (Niall Carson/PA)

“The virus is all over the world, it will continue to spread but it can be slowed.”

He said the Government has a duty to protect those at-risk categories of citizens, such as older people and those with underlying health conditions.

“We said we would take the right actions at the right time and we have to move now to have the greatest impact,” he said.

School closures are among restrictions coming into place at 6pm on Thursday.

People have been urged to continue to go to work but, where possible, do so from home.

Public transport will continue to operate.

Mr Varadkar said: “Above all, we all need to look out for each other.

“Ireland is a great nation. And we are great people.

“We have experienced hardship and struggle before. We have overcome many trials in the past with our determination and our spirit.

“We will prevail.”

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