Government believes cancelling parades could fuel panic

Analysis: Medical staff are updating briefings for Ministers before a first meeting of a Cabinet committee on coronavirus

Prof Sam McConkey of the Royal College of Surgeons said  in a worst-case scenario  80,000 to 120,000 people could die in Ireland from the virus

Prof Sam McConkey of the Royal College of Surgeons said in a worst-case scenario 80,000 to 120,000 people could die in Ireland from the virus

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The Government is expected to come under significant pressure this week to cancel public events to impede the spread of coronavirus.

Following the quarantine of several regions in Italy, affecting an estimated 16 million people, and the move by the German government to cancel public events of more than 1,000 people, the Government is anticipating an intense focus on the St Patrick’s Day festival and parade in Dublin.

However, its position is that there is no need to cancel the event at this stage, though Government sources conceded that this could change in the coming days.

Some senior figures privately believe that it is inevitable the parade will be cancelled but there is nervousness in Government about the possibility of widespread closures and cancellations fuelling public panic. And while the Government insists it will act on medical and expert advice, there is also a concern about the economic effects of widespread closures.

“If we close the schools, when do we reopen them?” asked one Minister.

There is general expectation that the situation will worsen, and possibly worsen quickly, in the coming days.

On Sunday, Prof Sam McConkey of the Royal College of Surgeons declined to give a recommendation on whether the St Patrick’s Day festival should be cancelled, but he said that outdoor events such as the St Patrick’s Day parade were a safer environment than indoor events, with thousands of people under one roof.

Prof McConkey criticised the political leaders for a lack of action, saying there was “a lack of government right now” and called for a national government to manage the crisis.

He also said that in a worst-case scenario 80,000 to 120,000 people could die in Ireland from the virus.

Medical staff

Officials and medical staff were on Sunday night updating briefings for Ministers and senior civil servants in advance of the first meeting of the Cabinet committee on the coronavirus at Government Buildings on Monday.

Members of the committee – which will be chaired by the Taoiseach and includes Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Minister for Health Simon Harris, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Transport Shane Ross, as well as senior officials – will be briefed on the latest infection statistics and projections for future infections by public health and infectious diseases experts.

On Sunday, the HSE chief Paul Reid said he could not dispute reports of estimates that up to 1.9 million people in Ireland could become infected with the virus.

The Government has said there was no need to postpone the St Patrick’s Day festival and parade, but on Sunday night officials said that European developments – including the new control measures in Italy and Germany – would be discussed by Ministers on Monday.

While many more cases of the virus are expected in the coming weeks, it is understood that the concern in the Government is to “smooth out” the impact of the new cases so that they do not overwhelm the health service in the weeks ahead. “It’s about delaying the impact,” a source said.

The meeting is also likely to decide to extend sick pay to workers who are off work because of the virus, though it is not yet clear if this will require legislation to be put through the Oireachtas.

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