‘This is the calm before the storm, before the surge’
Covid-19 disruption to everyday life could last into the summer, Varadkar warns
Government Buildings, illuminated in green for St Patrick’s Day, during the Taoiseach’s address to the nation. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said elderly citizens and those with long-term illnesses will be asked to stay at home for several weeks as the Government grapples with the mounting crisis posed by the coronavirus.
Setting the scene for the difficult months ahead, Mr Varadkar warned that the disruption to everyday life could last into the summer. The Government is now moving to put in place systems to ensure that elderly people who are asked to “cocoon” will have access to food and supplies.
“At a certain point we will advise the elderly and people who have a long-term illness to stay at home for several weeks,” he said in a rare televised address on Tuesday night.
“We are putting in place the systems to ensure that if you are one of them you will have food, supplies and are checked on. We call this ‘cocooning’ and it will save many lives, particularly the most vulnerable, the most precious in our society.”
Mr Varadkar acknowledged that while many would find it difficult to stay apart from their loved ones, people needed to keep their physical distance in order to stop the spread of the virus.
He said that while the public wanted to know when the coronavirus crisis would be over, “the truth is we don’t know yet”.
“This emergency is likely to go on well beyond March 29th. It could go on for months into the summer so we need to be sensible in the approach we take.”
Mr Varadkar warned that Ireland was “in the midst of a global and national emergency, a pandemic the likes of which none of us has seen before” as he also cautioned that it would take years to recover economically.
“I am confident that our economy will bounce back but the damage will be significant and lasting. The bill will be enormous and it may take years to pay it.
“Coronavirus is already having a deep impact on jobs and economic activity and will continue to do so.”
The Government has, to date, signed off on a €3 billion package for health, social welfare and business and says it will take further action if needed.
The State was moving to deploy “full resources to ensure that essential shops, workplaces and public transport can continue to operate”, Mr Varadkar said.
“People will still need to buy goods and avail of personal services in the weeks and months ahead.
“This is the calm before the storm, before the surge. And when it comes, and it will come, never will so many ask so much of so few.”
In his speech, he said the country had witnessed “a St Patrick’s Day like no other, a day that none of us will ever forget”.
“Today’s children will tell their own children and grandchildren about the national holiday of 2020 that had no parties, no parades but instead saw everyone staying at home to protect each other.”
Meanwhile, the Health Service Executive says it is confident it can overcome delays in carrying out coronavirus tests and reporting results that threaten to derail the strategy of the health service in fighting the disease.
With patients reporting waits of up to six days for results, the HSE says new supplies of testing equipment due to arrive this week and an expansion of lab capacity will improve turnaround times.
A further 69 coronavirus cases were confirmed on Tuesday night, the biggest daily increase yet recorded, bringing the total number to 292.
The HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) said on Tuesday that the latest Covid-19 cases involved 29 males and 40 females. Of these, 48 were in the east of the State, 13 were in the south, five were in the northwest and three were in the west.
Another 10 cases were diagnosed in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, giving a total of 62 confirmed cases there.
Mr Varadkar warned again that the number of cases could rise to 15,000 by the end of the month with further rises in the weeks thereafter.
“We cannot stop this virus but working together we can slow it in its tracks and push it back.” He said this could be done only “if everyone takes sustained action. Nothing less will do.”