Coronavirus outbreak in Ireland could become very serious, minister says

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Ireland’s health minister has said the coronavirus outbreak in the country will become “very serious”, adding there is a moderate to high risk it could follow in similar ways as experienced in other European nations.

Simon Harris said it will require a whole of government and whole of society approach to deal with the escalation in coronavirus cases.

He said the country’s health service will not be found wanting in its resources to tackle the outbreak.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is chairing a new Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Covid-19.

Senior members of government and health experts are discussing how to deal with the impact of the virus and consider strengthening employment protection laws and supports for people who have to self-isolate.

It has also been confirmed that Mr Varadkar is to shorten his St Patrick’s visit to the US to attend further meetings about Covid-19.

Mr Varadkar is not attending an engagement in New York on Tuesday and instead will begin his trip in Washington on Wednesday

He had been due to attend a UN event in New York, however a government spokesman said the Taoiseach will start his visit by attending engagements on Wednesday evening.

Speaking to RTE Morning Ireland, Mr Harris urged the public not to panic.

“I think that’s a really important message, I know a lot of people are worried,” Mr Harris said.

“Over 80% of us who will get this virus will get a mild illness, but for some of us we will get very sick.

“What we have to do as a government, and what we have to do as a society, is prepare, and particularly prepare to support vulnerable groups of older people and people with underlying health conditions.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

“That helps our health service, it helps our frontline stuff and it helps us all as individuals.”

He added: “There’s a moderate to high risk of this, according to the European experts, taking hold in a very serious way in Ireland (and) that would require a prioritisation of services.

He said the sub-committee will involve relevant government departments and state agencies.

Mr Harris said they will make a decision on Monday on reducing the number of waiting days for social welfare payments and supports for people who have been told to self-isolate by health authorities.

“One of the things we’ve been looking at across government is can you reduce that waiting period so people can get support more quickly, and that’s something we’ll be considering today,” Mr Harris said.

He also said they are opening more ICU beds to “around 300” and will speak to the country’s private hospitals.

“It’s quite likely that if you got to a situation where this virus outbreaks in a serious way, that many elective procedures in private hospitals could yet be cancelled so they may have capacity,” Mr Harris said.

“We will not be found wanting when it comes to providing any resources that are required and the Minister for Finance (Pascal Donohoe) has been clear in this.”

He said health experts are still considering whether or not St Patrick’s Day celebrations will go ahead.

He said that a decision will be made in the next 48 hours.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin should be cancelled.

Speaking to RTE radio, she said it would be “the responsible and necessary thing to do”.

Ms McDonald said she has been in contact with Mr Varadkar to request an urgent meeting about Covid-19 along with the leaders of all the other political parties.

“It is equally necessary that political leaders from across the spectrum are fully informed, engaged and involved in this process,” she said.

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