Schools, colleges and other public facilities are set to close in the Republic from this evening for at least two weeks in response to the spread of coronavirus.
Speaking from Washington DC on Thursday Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the measures being announced today would remain in place until March 29th and would be kept under review.
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- Schools, colleges and childcare facilities to close
- Cultural institutions to close
- Indoor gatherings of more than 100 people should be cancelled
- Outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled
- Public transport will continue to operate
- People should continue to go to work, but those who can work from home should do so
- Shops, cafes and restaurants to stay open
- Measures begin at 6pm this evening and last until March 29th
From 6pm, schools, colleges and childcare facilities will close, Mr Varadkar said. Cultural institutions will also close, he said.
The Government is also recommending that indoor gatherings of more than 100 people - and outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people - be cancelled.
People should continue to go to work if they can, but those who are able to work from home should do so, he added.
Shops and supply chains will remain open, the Taoiseach said, and cafes and restaurants can remain open. He also said people should minimise social interaction where possible.
Public transport will continue to operate.
“I know that some of this is coming as a real shock and it is going involve big changes in the way we live our lives. I know that I am asking people to make enormous sacrifices. We’re doing it for each other,” he said. “Together, we can slow the virus in its tracks and push it back. Acting together, as one nation, we can save many lives. Our economy will suffer. It will bounce back.”
Mr Varadkar did not comment on the US travel ban announced last night. The ban applies to visitors from most European states, but not Ireland.
Speaking after the announcement, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said thousands of lives can be saved through a collective national response to the measures.
Mr Coveney said the measures being introduced were unprecedented in their scale and effect across society.
“Never before has such drastic action been taken in face of a public health threat,” he told a press briefing in Government Buildings.
This was not being taken lightly but was based on the advice of the best public health experts, Mr Coveney said.
“The irony is that in order to pull together we are asking people to stay apart. The closures proposed will disrupt the everyday connectivity that makes us who we are,” he said.
The days and weeks ahead will be difficult, Mr Coveney warned, but the Government cannot succeed on its own.
The Government was acting to protect the most vulnerable in society, who were also the most precious, so the actions being taken were “absolutely necessary and justified”.
It was asking people to continue to work, remotely where possible. Those who had to go to work should limit their contacts, said Mr Coveney.
Mr Coveney acknowledge the measures were “a lot to take in”. “I’m a father, a husband and a son too. I know it’s a lot to take in. I understand the concerns many households will have.”
The Government is to publish the advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team shortly and individual Ministers are to hold briefings on the impact of the measures in their respective areas. A special Cabinet meeting is to take place this evening.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the measures were taken in the light of a significant increase in the number of cases, a number of ICU hospitalisation, one death, some clusters of cases, cases in hospital settings and evidence of community transmission.
However, the outbreak here was still at an early stage, he said.
He urged employers to stagger work times and break times. Restrictions are to be imposed for visitors to hospital, nursing homes and prisons, and spacing measures will be introduced in homeless shelters.
The limits on mass gatherings are “clear recommendations”, he said.
The first death from the disease occurred on Wednesday at Naas General Hospital. The patient, an elderly woman, had an underlying condition that was terminal.
There are 43 confirmed cases in the Republic and 18 in Northern Ireland.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) for the first time on Wednesday labelled the coronavirus a pandemic, adding Italy and Iran were on the front line of the disease and other countries would soon join them.
In a statement, the Department of Education said all pupils, from pre-school to third level, are urged to practice social distancing, and to minimise physical contact with each other.
In order to minimise the impact on teaching, the department said schools will be asked to continue to plan lessons and to provide online resources where possible.
“Schools are asked to prioritise supporting exam classes to continue to prepare for State examinations,” said the department, adding that physical classes in universities and higher education facilities would not be held.
Minister for Education Joe McHugh said he was deeply conscious of the impact the closures would have on students, their families and the wider community. “This is a necessary and proportionate measure that we are taking as a pro-active measure to help contain the threat of Covid-19,” he said.
Mr McHugh said: “This is the right decision at the right time. It is taken in the best interests of our children, our young people, our school and college communities and our wider society.”
The situation would remain under review, he said, and any change to the measures would be communicated widely. Pupils should take their books and learning materials home with them this evening, he said.
“This is a time where we all need to work together for the best possible outcome for our students,” he said. “The support of everyone across the sector is vital, as we all strive to ensure that this threat is dealt with as effectively as possible.”
Contingency arrangement are being worked out in relation to the State education exams, he said.
The GAA, Camogie Association and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association has suspended all activity at club, county and educational levels until March 29th from midnight on Thursday.
MCD Promotions has postponed all shows and events affected by the public gathering guidelines for the duration of the measures. Original tickets will be valid for rescheduled shows.
The Mater Hospital announced it is limiting activity to essential services from Thursday.
In a statement, the hospital said all outpatient appointments and elective surgeries would be “limited to essential services only until further notice”.
Patients whose appointments are being deferred will be contacted by phone, the hospital said, adding every effort is being made to manage and control the spread of coronavirus.
The HSE has advised it can take up to 14 days for symptoms of coronavirus to appear. The most common symptoms are a cough (this can be any kind of cough, not just dry), shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, fever (high temperature).
The HSE says if you have reason to suspect that you have been exposed to Covid-19 you should phone the local emergency department or GP service without delay. The HSE helpline can be reached at 1850 24 1850, or 041 6850300, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Alone, the organisation that supports older people, has opened a support line for those with concerns about the outbreak of Covid-19. It can be reached at 0818 222 024.