'A St Patrick's Day like no other': Taoiseach addresses nation and says over 15,000 will get Covid-19

"Not all superheroes wear capes - some wear scrubs and gowns."

'A St Patrick's Day like no other': Taoiseach addresses nation and says over 15,000 will get Covid-19

By Noel Baker and Joel Slattery

In a rare and historic address this evening, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said of the current phase of the Covid-19 pandemic: "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 from so few.

"We will do all we can to support them."

Outlining new initiatives likely to soon come on stream, including the 'cocooning' of elderly people and those vulnerable through illness, the Taoiseach also warned that the crisis could extend into the summer.

Addressing the nation under Section 112 of the Broadcasting Act, only used in times of national emergency, Mr Varadkar began by walking to the podium and saying: "this is a St Patrick's Day like no other, a day none of us will ever forget."

He repeated recent comments projecting 15,000 cases by the end of this month and many more after that and said: "We are in the middle of a global and national emergency, a pandemic, the likes of which we have never seen before."

'We can stop it in its tracks'

“We can’t stop the virus, but we can stop it in its tracks,” he said adding for the need to avoid “close human contact”.

“These choices aren’t easy, but they are necessary,” he added.

“We will learn from the experience of other countries,” he said, “what works and what doesn’t.”

The Taoiseach said the pandemic could go on into the summer, adding that co-operation from the entire public was needed to ensure grocery shops remain open.

The Taoiseach said older and at-risk people will have to engage in “cocooning” for a number of weeks.

Mr Varadkar also praised the nurses and doctors on the frontline of caring for those who get the virus.

"Not all superheroes wear capes - some wear scrubs and gowns," he said, adding that his partner and sisters work in the health service and that there is “stress and anxiety” in families around the country.

Paying tribute to health professionals - including members of his own family - the Taoiseach also praised the efforts of others, including hauliers and teachers and people stocking supermarket shelves, who he said were also "frontline workers".

However, he said opening hours may need to be adjusted as the country tries to negotiate through the pandemic crisis, and told children they would have to wait to return to school.

He also warned of the need to "halt the spread of fear" and advised that people take a break from media and technology to aid their mental health.

Call to action

In what was effectively a call to action, there were glimmers of initiatives that will be used as the crisis develops, not least the cocooning of elderly people and those vulnerable through illness.

He said this would happen "at a certain point" and would last for several weeks. He said this would save many lives, but admitted that such forced separation would be difficult for families.

I know it is going to be very difficult to stay away from our loved ones," he said, adding: "As hard as it is we need to keep our distance from them.

"Promise them you will see them again soon."

He also said other changes would be needed, such as possible adjustments to opening hours for businesses, avoiding unnecessary journies, buying online from local retailers rather than travelling to shop, and working from home.

"In short, we are asking people to come together as a nation by staying apart from each other," he said.

Earlier on Tuesday evening, it was announced that there were 69 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 – bringing the total number in the Republic to 292. There are 62 confirmed cases in the North.

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