Coronavirus cannot be stopped but can be slowed, says Varadkar

Varadkar delivers bleak assessment of potential outcome of coronavirus spread

Talks on the formation of a new government are expected to accelerate after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivered a bleak assessment of the potential consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.

Cabinet Ministers and Opposition leaders briefed on the epidemic on Monday were said to be taken back by the scale of the challenge outlined.

“It is possible we are facing events that are unprecedented in modern times,” Mr Varadkar said later, at a press conference unveiling a €3 billion aid package to deal with the crisis.

The virus cannot be stopped, he admitted, but “it can be slowed” with the right response from the health service and across society.

“We only have so many arrows in our quiver,” he warned, adding that resources were finite. “And it’s really important that we don’t fire all our shots at first.”

On Monday night, Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte announced his country’s lockdown area would be extended to the whole of Italy, not just the most severely affected areas of the north. After Italy’s death toll jumped by 97 to 463, Mr Conte said it was the country’s “darkest hour”.

No symptoms

Worldwide, the number of Covid-19 cases has surpassed 110,000, in 105 countries. There have been 3,817 deaths. The EU’s disease prevention agency is set to tighten its advice as evidence emerged people showing no symptoms could spread the virus.

Here, the St Patrick’s Day festival across the State was cancelled.

Three newly discovered cases of coronavirus were reported on Monday evening, bringing the total of confirmed cases in the Republic to 24.

The new cases involved three women who had close contact with a confirmed case. Two, including one healthcare worker, are in the south of the country. One is in the west.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan told a meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 earlier that the outbreak was a pandemic, even if that term was not actually being used officially. If the health system becomes overwhelmed, guidance may have to be given over the phone by medical professionals.

Schools and workplaces

According to those present at a briefing for leaders of the Opposition, Mr Varadkar indicated decisions may need to be taken at some point on the closure of schools and workplaces.

They were told the crisis could last between 12 and 22 weeks.

Dr Holohan is said to have outlined three possible scenarios, which would see either 25 per cent, 50 per cent or 75 per cent of the population contracting the virus.

At the subsequent press conference, the Taoiseach referenced death rates for the virus ranging from under 1 per cent to over 3 per cent, meaning large numbers of people could die of the disease in a worst-case scenario. Funds available to the next government to invest in measures on climate change, health and housing will be significantly curtailed.

Separately, according to recommendations from the Irish Association of Funeral Directors to its members, funeral services should not take place for people who die from the disease until later, and their remains should be brought straight to the crematorium or cemetery for committal.

It said it has issued a "guidance policy" to members and said "it was not our intention to alarm the public or be insensitive to the trauma that loved ones may face should a member of their family die from the disease."

The association said it is continuing to monitor advice from the Government and that "although the health and safety of our members is paramount, we would assure the public that should any of our members be required to arrange a funeral, under these unprecedented circumstances, they will do so with the utmost respect and professionalism for the deceased and their bereaved family."