Coronavirus shutdown: what does it all mean and how concerned should I be?

Information about our emerging new reality and plans to slow the spread of Covid-19

What is happening now?

The country has gone into a partial lockdown or at the very least schools, colleges, childcare centres and public facilities in the Republic are closed for at least two weeks in response to the spread of coronavirus. Indoor gatherings of more than 100 people have been cancelled as have outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people. Shops, cafes and restaurants will stay open but businesses that can facilitate remote working have been told to let people work from home where possible.

At least two weeks?

Actually it is a little bit longer – certainly in the case of the schools. According to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar the measures will remain in place until March 29th and will be kept under review.

Why is this happening now?

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has said the unprecedented measures have been taken in the light of a significant increase in the number of cases of Covid-19, a number of ICU hospitalisation, one death, some clusters of cases, cases in hospital settings and evidence of community transmission. The key phrase in recent days has been "flattening the curve". That means that authorities are trying to slow down the speed at which the new cases present themselves and push them out over a longer period of time to try and stop the health service being overwhelmed by many people getting ill at the same time.

What has the Government been saying?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he knew that some of what was happening would come “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.”


Anything else?

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said thousands of lives could be saved through a collective national response being introduced, which was unprecedented in 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 . He said the steps were being taken based on the advice of the best public health experts. "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.

What impact will this all have on the economy?

A huge one. We have already seen a dramatic decline in spending on holidays, hotels, restaurants and more. Tens of thousands of jobs in the tourism sector alone are at risk. In the days ahead, business life will slow as the measures take effect. It is too soon to say how bad the long-term impact will be. We don’t know how long it will last and we don’t know what will happen when the current phase of the crisis passes.

What is the thinking behind the new rules?

The idea is to reduce the amount of interaction people have with each other in order to slow the march of the disease. The key phrase, or at least one of them, is social distancing. People need to reduce the number of contacts they have with other people. That does not mean that you have to lock yourself in your home for the next two weeks – you can still see friends and family. If, however, people are displaying any symptoms then they will need to cut themselves off from other people to avoid spreading the illness.

There has been panic buying in shops. Should I be concerned?

There was a huge amount of panic buying in shops as the measures were rolled out with many staples including rice, pasta, tinned goods and toilet paper disappearing. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Enterprise have both insisted shops and supply chains will remain open. The director of Retail Ireland, Arnold Dillon, said supply chains were "functioning as normal and were well-placed to respond".

Why are people so panicked?

It is a natural response to an unnatural situation. And of course once some people start panic buying everyone feels like they should too. Social media images of empty shelves are not helping. It is important to remember that shelves will be restocked every evening and restocking will continue into the future.

What about buses and trains and planes?

Public transport will continue to operate as normal – or at least as normal as can be expected in what are extraordinary times. According to officials, all the other measures being introduced mean that there is likely to be a significant drop in demand for public transport services. People can still fly to other countries. Whether or not they want to is another thing entirely.

Does this mean I don’t have to go to work?

No, it doesn’t. People are being encouraged to continue to go to work and people who can work from home are being encouraged to do so and we have been asked to minimise social interaction where possible.

And sport? This is a busy time for sport in Ireland, right?

It was a busy time but as a result of the spread of coronavirus, sport in Ireland will come to a complete stop until at least March 29th. The GAA, Camogie Association and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association have suspended all activity at club, county and educational levels until March 29th from midnight on Thursday.

What about concerts?

Most of them are gone too. 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.

And Confirmations and Masses and funerals?

All confirmations due to take place in the days ahead across Ireland have been cancelled. The Catholic Church has asked that funerals be limited to fewer than 100 people and, while Masses are going ahead, they are likely to be scaled back.

What about the US travel ban on European countries?

Ireland is not affected. US president Donald Trump announced a 30-day ban on all non-US travellers entering America from Europe. The US department of homeland security suggested that the ban only applies to countries in the Schengen Area (the European borderless free travel area) so Ireland – as well as Romania, Bulgaria and Britain – is not included.

Okay, can we go back to the start? How serious is this illness?

It is very serious, there is no two ways about it. While the vast majority of people who contract coronavirus will be fine within a couple of weeks, about 15 per cent of people will become very ill while about 5 per cent will get critically ill. The mortality rate of the illness is fluctuating from country to country and from week to week as it spreads, but with the information we have at this stage it looks like about 2 per cent of those who get the illness may die. The number falls dramatically among younger people and – so far at least – the percentage of children who have become seriously ill or died is minuscule.

What should I do if I have symptoms?

Contact your GP urgently and do not leave the house. The principal symptoms are headache, dry cough, shortness of breath, muscle pain and fever. If you think you have the illness but are feeling well, the advice is to consult the HSE website or ring the HSELive helpline on 1850 24 1850 for advice.

What else should I do?

Keep washing your hands.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast